Faye Roberts, Scout Public Affairs

Faye Roberts, Scout Public Affairs

You just got a call and a federal minister wants to visit your business to celebrate your success. That’s great, right? Of course it is. You’ve worked hard to build a successful company and now it’s caught the attention of senior officials in our government. They want to meet you and your team, learn about your company and see how they can help.

Having a relationship with your government is important and could represent a great opportunity for your business – but we always need to be aware of the distinction between government and politics. That difference becomes more apparent as we head into election time.

Let me explain. Many people understand there is a difference between government staff or bureaucrats, who are permanent, non-partisan government employees who work with and for the people we elect to run our country. Politicians must run for election every four years and can change roles frequently, putting forward policies based on their party’s ideology of what they plan to do if elected.

In the lead-up to the election, the party holding office will typically use its status as the government to its advantage to get out into the community, visit businesses and make strategic funding announcements. Sometimes the months leading up to the election will be used to travel to specific ridings based on the governing political party’s strength or weakness there.

If you get a call today to ask if a federal minister can visit your business, it would be wise to accept and establish a relationship with the permanent government staff. This will help you educate them about your business and goals, which in turn helps them to help you overcome challenges. This is a ‘government’ visit and it’s mostly upside and very low-risk.

Once the formal election period begins (usually about five weeks before election day), you might start to receive calls from politicians or campaign staff asking to visit your business, with reporters and photographers present. This is also an opportunity, but you need to think through the implications of hosting a politically motivated visit.

Large companies often set an all-or-none policy for hosting political events during the formal campaign period, and most opt for the latter. Simply put, they don’t want campaigning politicians from any party to use their businesses as backdrops for their photo opportunities. This way there’s no implication that you and your business are endorsing one candidate over another, and it reduces the risk of alienating customers or others whose political views differ from the candidate’s.

Smaller businesses might also decide to open their doors to all candidates in an attempt to generate awareness of their businesses and capitalize on any media exposure. This can be risky because there’s no guarantee more than one party will ask to visit, meaning you might end up inadvertently becoming known a single-party supporter if you end up hosting only one.

Is it OK to say no to candidates who ask to tour your shop floor, office space, or use your building as their backdrop? The simple answer is yes – it’s common practice during a campaign and you won’t be penalized for it.

If your government calls with a similar request ahead of the election, or if the new government sworn in this fall contacts you to host an event, feel free to open your doors, because those photos won’t end up on campaign literature. They may even serve your business interests in the long run.

Photo: Diane Dodds Visits Sunstart Bakery by DUP Photos is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Image has been cropped.