In a continuing blog series, “Knocking on Government Doors”, Irene Liu, vice president and general counsel at Checkr, will discuss proactive engagement strategies to help companies with their government relations and policy strategies. She will examine how best to knock on government doors, as well as how companies can prepare best responses for the unexpected times when the government comes knocking at their door.
Now that your company understands the benefits of proactive outreach to regulators, you want to start knocking on government doors so that you can vet your products, influence new policies and programs, and explain how certain laws do or do not apply to your product.
But before you knock, what should you do to prepare for these government meetings?
Getting Your Ducks in Order
Before you go to any government meeting, make sure you get your ducks in order and fix any product compliance issues that might catch the eye of a regulator. Because, after all, you’re going to proactively meet with regulators so that you can introduce and showcase your company in a positive light. If there are glaring non-compliant product issues, you need to make sure that you get those fixed before you go in. If not, you’re just asking for trouble given that these regulators police your product and company.
You will want to use the opportunity to highlight how your company is disrupting the industry with your new product, how you’re staying compliant, and how your product helps the society or the regulators’ constituents. So you should develop core messaging around your product and company before any meeting.
Before you go to any government meeting, make sure you get your ducks in order and fix any product compliance issues that might catch the eye of a regulator.
And if your company has a great corporate mission that will directly benefit the public or the regulators’ constituents, talk about it with the regulators. For example, at Checkr, as a technology-driven background check company, our mission is to build a better future by improving understanding of the past. We want to help the more than 70 million Americans with criminal backgrounds find jobs. At government meetings, we weave this mission into our Checkr story because we’re passionate and proud about our mission. And we want our regulators to know that we’re using our product to effect positive societal change. Sharing your company’s mission helps regulators understand your motivations and how it might align with theirs, which then helps them relate to your goals more successfully.
Deciding Whether You Want to Go Alone or as an Industry
There’s an old proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This applies even to those companies considering their government relations strategy.
As the proverb says, you may want to go alone to meet regulators and legislators if you are trying to move fast, because going as an industry can take time. It will take time to gather together as an industry and find unified positions to present to regulators. You may also want to go alone because you want to showcase your unique technology and company, which is distinct from the industry. Also, if your goal is to distinguish yourself from the industry and the traditional industries’ bad practices and you want to show how your company and its products are different in a positive way as compared to the industry, you may also want to go alone.
On the other hand, if there are industry-wide regulatory issues that impacts everyone in the industry, it’s worthwhile to consider going together as an industry so that you can show the regulatory issue’s broad scope and impact on the industry.
First, you may want to find out if there is an existing industry coalition. If so, join it and meet the regulators together as a group. There is strength in numbers.
If there isn’t an existing coalition in existence, then form a new coalition with other industry players. For example, Waymo, Lyft, Uber, Ford, and Volvo formed a Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets in 2016 specifically “to work with lawmakers, regulators, and the public to realize the safety and societal benefits of fully self-driving vehicles.” These players recently formed another new group called PAVE, Partners for Automated Vehicle Education, with additional automakers and tech suppliers. They launched PAVE last month at CES, an annual trade show run by the Consumer Technology Association.
Self-driving technology is relatively new and subject to intense scrutiny from state regulators and legislators; however, now the industry stakeholders can jointly work together to tackle any new legislation, potentially create model policies and legislations which can be adopted across the country, and work together as a group to educate and lobby lawmakers and regulators on issues that impact them across industry.
You want to use your proactive meetings with regulators and policymakers to make a strongly positive and lasting impression about your company and its products.
The creation of these joint coalitions is an incredibly smart strategy because it not only lays the foundation to proactively knock on government doors more effectively, but it also positions these members as thought leaders who wish to foster deeper collaboration and interactive relationships with the regulators and policymakers. Such groundwork will help these industry players go further, just as the proverb predicted.
Hiring Good People to Go With You
You want to use your proactive meetings with regulators and policymakers to make a strongly positive and lasting impression about your company and its products. To make such an impression, you should go into these meetings with a team of knowledgeable experts and senior leaders from your company who can articulately speak about the product and your company.
And oftentimes, to help you get in the door, you’ll need to hire people. Most companies typically hire former governments insiders, lobbyists, firm lawyers with prior government experience, industry associations leaders, or a combination to help them get in the door.
If you end up deciding to hire a former insider from a government entity, make sure you hire someone who is well-liked, respected, and who still maintains strong connections to the government office. Otherwise, your reputation will be immediately tarnished by your association with a former insider who is not respected — after all, regulators and policymakers are human beings too, often with opinions about their former colleagues. And if you plan to hire lobbyists, make sure you vet them carefully; most lobbyists are former staffers, so while they can be effective going from staffer to staffer to influence policy, there are also lobbyists who are former legislators who can go directly to their former colleagues in the office who are current legislators to influence. If you can find a former legislator with a solid reputation, they might be able to help you get your message across more quickly and directly by working the close relationships they already have with current legislators.
Given that you will only have limited time to meet with policymakers and regulators, you want to spend time to prepare your team to put their best foot forward in these meetings. So, get your ducks in a row and go in with your best people to speak intelligently about your company and products. That way, you can successfully leave a lasting impression as thought leaders in the industry that regulators can trust.