Dave Pryce is the Global Government Relations Lead for D2L, a world leader in cutting edge learning technology, which employs people in Canada, the U.S., Europe, Australia, Brazil and Singapore. Prior to joining D2L, Dave led BlackBerry’s government relations team across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific. Before joining the private sector, Dave worked at Queen’s Park in the Office of the Premier and the Office of the Minister of Finance.
Q – How would you define the corporate government relations function?
A – The way I approach explaining government relations is by using three buckets:
Support for sales and marketing – Positioning the team to expand sales in new markets and creating the need for your products in a given jurisdiction. Looking for those opportunities – how to do that will vary based on your business. At BlackBerry, that meant working with government entities and assisting with ‘go-to-market’ [strategy].
Policy and regulatory – What are we doing to identify policy issues that may pose barriers to entry and what are we doing to remove those barriers to entry? With BlackBerry India and Middle East, that meant ensuring we were compliant and not compromising our principles as a company. That can range from data protection, security, data residency, and everything that would fall under those headings. There’s also a role for Government Relations to help the business on issues around tax or finding tax credits available to us. We would work with governments to make sure we were accessing what was available to us.
Thought leadership – How are we positioning our company as a leader in a given space, with government stakeholders, and how the company is perceived?
Q – As a company grows, how does it know when it’s time to introduce GR activities?
A – At D2L, it was determined when the company was at around 800 employees and moving into new markets, that it was time to hire an in-house government relations practitioner. As D2L looked to explore global opportunities, they saw tremendous value in the GR expertise to help assess new jurisdictions and establish the right and appropriate relationships to set them up for success. Companies that can integrate GR into their business strategy are setting up for longer-term success.
Q – What key factors does a company need to assess before engaging GR experts?
A – Companies need to assess their global go-to-market strategy and how serious they are about making a global play. Companies also need to assess how heavily regulated they are as an industry. If their sector is highly regulated, they should look at the GR function sooner rather than later.
It’s important to have a discussion with government to ensure your product/service and your business are meeting the compliance requirements of a particular jurisdiction. If your push is going to be focused on the United States then that should be the focus. If your play is going to be Asia, then that should be the focus. You need to ask “what does your go-to-market look like there?” One size fits all does not work.
Q – If a company does nothing else, what is the one thing it should do from a GR perspective to enter a new market?
A – Looking for a partnership is at the core of successful GR. The goal really is to become the trusted advisor. Ideally, when governments have questions or issues with a particular matter, or understand best practices from other jurisdictions, you want to be able to offer your thoughts. Through this building of trusted relationships, you hope to gain a better understanding of both the actual and implied requirements. Understanding who is setting the requirements, what those requirements are as stated in statute, and understanding what objective is really to be achieved are all-important first steps.
From a practical perspective, you want to understand the basics of what’s required to enter a market: legal entity, import/export permits and what does that relationship look like. Then, being able to have relationships with government helps you understand the potential changes that are being considered that could impact your business. Knowing what changes may be on the table and be implemented in a matter of months lets you assess the real cost of a market. Put simply, GR gives you more data points to make better decisions. Additionally, there may be an opportunity to advocate to overcome barriers and a GR advocacy program can help make those changes.
Q – Canadian companies want to sell their product/services in the U.S. or other jurisdictions. What should they be aware of to avoid simple GR related gaffes?
A – You don’t want to get into a fight with government. Some companies will go really hard on an issue and sometimes that is not the best approach – start with investing in the relationship and understanding how government works first.
Government affects each and every one of us every day – your kids’ school, your parents’ hospital and the roads you used to get to each. The vast majority of people who get into elected office do it to do good and you may agree or disagree with their policies, but that’s democracy and the people have a responsibility to share their thoughts.
Q – You worked in the U.K. while at BlackBerry. What should companies know about entering the U.K. market?
A – Generally speaking, it’s important to be abreast of legal requirements in any jurisdiction companies are doing business in. Export/import permits, tax considerations and labour mobility are examples. As companies look to do business in the U.K. specifically, understanding issues such as access to work visas are critically important.
Q – What are have you learned about the politics of other jurisdictions that has been the most valuable?
A – The geopolitics and history are imperative when maneuvering your way through the EU. The process to arrive at the answer is more important than the answer. In North America, we are very transactional and in some of these other regions you need to build the relationships, trust and rapport to ultimately take you where you want to go.
In GR, you are attuned to how to conduct yourself in other regions, and respect and understand who is making the decision versus the conduit for the decision makers. That’s not easy.
Q – From your years of experience in GR, what’s the best advice you can give growing companies on navigating government?
A – The best place to start is your trade associations: Communitech, ITAC and the Chamber of Commerce. The trade commission can be an arm of your organization and the GO Connect program has been fantastic. The government has great resources and can help guide you. Look into trade commissioners and ambassadors, trade missions and understand what those opportunities look like.
Q – How does the role of GR change during a federal election?
A – Good GR practitioners are in constant contact with government and political parties and already have strong established relationships with government officials. The election then becomes an opportunity to see the result of that legwork. An election isn’t the time to start advocating that work should be done. If you wanted something specific in a party’s election platform, you should have started that work earlier.
Regardless of who wins, you will need to work with the government of the day, both elected and bureaucratic officials.
Q – What should companies pay attention to in the federal election?
A – Companies need to know who the political players are and should have dissected the platform to look for opportunities for their business. Also, watch the speech from the throne, which will be late in the fall and the economic statement that will be released later.
Q – How do you respond to businesses with no interest in GR?
A – Engagement is the key. You have to be engaged – GR isn’t a “nice to have” if you’re in a highly regulated industry. Even if you don’t have a GR practitioner, you need to give it some time and attention, as government is one of your biggest stakeholders.