Stakeholder Relations: Engaging Elected Officials
One would think it was a given, but many organizations fail to recognize the influence elected officials have over their constituents. After all, they were elected by those they serve to represent constituents’ best interests. So, why is it that frequently organizations fail to engage elected officials when implementing major transformative initiatives, instead, leaving them to “hear about it through the grapevine?” Strategically reaching out to key elected officials allows organizations to focus key influencers on the organization’s point of view, identify and address potential issues in advance, build advocates and influence outcomes.
Early, Frequent, and Ongoing communications
Savvy stakeholder relations teams (made up of communication experts and sometimes lobbyists) have long understood the influence of elected officials in building support and consensus, as well as the importance of communicating with these influencers on a regular, consistent basis. By following a few straightforward steps, organizations can develop stakeholder relations programs that effectively engage these key influencers and inform, direct and improve public outreach.
- At the earliest possible stage of a project, schedule introductory meetings with mayors, city council members, county judges, county commissioners, state representatives/senators, federal representatives/senators, etc., who represent geographical areas affected by your project to:
- Provide preliminary information about your plans
- Ask for input regarding concerns
- Seek information regarding potential supporters and opposition, as well as local thought leaders, clergy and business owners
- Identify major issues or needs facing their constituencies/communities/districts that could influence your outcome
- Learn about community/district leaders and influencers
- Identify local vendors for activities you sponsor or venues used for meetings
- Answer questions
- As plans progress, maintain communication to update elected officials on your project, introduce project managers/personnel and provide detailed information regarding the benefits of your project (increased tax revenue, enhanced traffic flow on a major thoroughfare, etc.)
- Schedule presentations at city council/county commissioner meetings, etc.
- Seek resolutions of support from city councils/county commissioners’ courts/individual elected officials.
- Invite elected officials to all public meetings you host.
- Sponsor events at conferences elected officials attend and participate/exhibit at those meetings.
- Include officials in mailings such as newsletters, project update emails, website updates, etc.
- Invite elected officials to presentations you give before community groups or to be your guests at industry events.
- Inform elected officials of regulatory proceedings and, if public comment is allowed, ask them to speak in support of your project.
- If the project involves major construction, include elected officials in groundbreaking or ribbon cutting events, etc.
- Once a quarter update them on your progress, seeking input on any concerns that may have.
Elected officials can be great allies and supporters for major infrastructure or transformative initiatives, and more so if they are not taken by surprise or educated by your opposition first. In many instances, their approval is required for project approval. Recognizing their influence, and communicating honestly, openly and frequently is essential for positive relationships with this key group. Of course, no amount of communication will override poor deeds, unkept promises or abuses of public trust. You must earn the trust you request.
If you’d like to tap into Ward’s stakeholder relations expertise, contact us and we can support you in achieving your next important initiative.