Understanding and participating in government affairs can play a valuable role in a company’s business development process.
Understanding and participating in government affairs can play a valuable role in a company’s business development process. By staying informed and involved in political processes, companies empower their clients, and themselves, to navigate evolving regulatory frameworks and capture opportunities in their industries. The role of engineering firms in government affairs is so important that ACEC encourages and helps firms navigate this field.
Here are four steps for creating and implementing a successful government affairs program into your firm’s business development program:
- Clarify your goals. Before starting your program, it is important to clarify what your objectives are. Your goals should be achievable and aligned with your firm’s strategic plan. Is the purpose to enhance your networking with clients, or is it aimed at staying ahead of legislative priorities that impact the engineering community? A strategic approach, starting small and building on that, will be easier for most firms to accomplish. Here are some questions to ask yourself before you kick off your program:
- How big is your firm and how many resources can you dedicate to this process?
- Who will lead this endeavor? Do they have appropriate time to commit to this important undertaking?
- How will we train our business development staff to participate?
- Have we budgeted for this?
- Is this consistent with our firm’s culture?
- Communicate the benefits. Creating any new policy for a firm can be a challenge. When introducing a new policy, it is best to lead with the benefits and constantly reiterate them throughout the process. The benefits should be tied to the goals, and this will validate and guide the process. It is important to customize your firm’s benefits to your goals. Here are some examples:
- Improve your firm’s reputation. Being an active participant in the government process can make a firm a strategic asset, as demonstrating an understanding of the complex intersection of government policies and funding will result in a firm being viewed by clients as a knowledgeable resource and partner. Participation establishes a firm as a thought leader, an advocate for positive change, and a socially responsible organization.
- Achieving project funding. Obtaining funding for clients’ projects is a crucial aspect of a firm’s mission, as it directly contributes to project creation. Whether government grants, subsidies, or funding programs, by sharing the various funding mechanisms led by government agencies, helping achieve project funding shows a firm as a trusted advisor.
- Bettering the industry. Promoting legislation that aligns with a company’s service offerings is a proactive strategy that supports the clients and the industries served by AEC companies. By engaging in advocacy efforts, involved firms can shape policies that impact the AEC field, which, in turn, fosters innovation, sustainability, and economic development.
- Establish methods of participation. Now that you have set your goals and communicated the benefits, it is time to align your targets with your business development team. Reiterating that it is best to start small, diving into a full in-house government affairs department, in-house lobbying efforts, candidate endorsements, and outside lobbying aren’t recommended at the onset. Focus on the smaller, achievable methods of participation, for example:
- Public outreach. Public outreach seeks to actively engage and inform a firm and the public about government initiatives, policies, and activities. It’s probable that your firm is already well-acquainted with public interactions, often participating in public meetings, hosting design charrettes, and offering training sessions. As part of public outreach efforts, firms commonly provide testimony in support of bills or communicate public policies that will impact them. If you’re considering exploring this avenue, don’t hesitate to leverage the in-house expertise at your disposal.
- Campaign funding. When deciding on contributions and endorsements, it is important to know who supports policies and legislation favorable to the engineering industry. You should conduct thorough research on existing campaign financing regulations. It is important to learn about the federal campaign laws as well as state and local ones, because they vary state by state. Getting sound legal advice is the best course of action because non-compliance can result in legal penalties, fines, and damage to an organization’s reputation.
- Trade associations. To optimize engagement in trade associations, the internal government affairs team should collaborate with employees participating in association meetings and events. This collaboration aims to educate them on what to listen for and obtain valuable insights they already have. In cases where employees or the firm aren’t actively participating in trade associations, initiating internet searches using keywords aligned with specific goals serves as an effective starting point. The ACEC state-level government affairs committees play a crucial role in keeping your company informed about recent regulatory developments, such as the Infrastructure Investment, Jobs Act, and tax code changes, which can significantly impact your business.
- Committee participation. Start by asking what level of government will best help your company: national, state, or local. All shape policy and legislation, just in different ways. Please note, if you participate in a committee in a town that is also your client, there are potential conflicts of interest.
- Reevaluate, adjust, repeat. A successful government affairs program is never finished. As part of annual strategic planning (or more often if necessary), the program must be reevaluated. Like any effective company program, it must be cultivated and adjusted so that it works for the firm, within the regulatory sphere, and for your clients.
A successful government affairs program is one that reinforces your firm’s objectives of becoming a recognized and knowledgeable resource, while also serving as a valued client partner. By setting achievable goals that align with your firm’s overarching objectives and taking measurable and strategic steps, a government affairs program can actively contribute to the success and strength of an organization in a changing political and regulatory environment.
Katherine Nanowski, CPSM is vice president and director of marketing and business development at Fuss & O’Neill, Inc. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.