Now that the formal countdown to Oct. 19 is on, it’s time to look at how government relations can support public relations. To do that, I reached out to Crystal Roberts, a Waterloo Region communications guru (full disclosure: Crystal is my business partner and we founded Scout Public Affairs together).
Crystal has extensive experience on how government relations and PR can work together to add value for your company, having advised C-level executives and politicians throughout her career, including roles at BlackBerry and Queen’s Park.
Q – What’s the value of considering politics and incorporating government relations into public relations strategies and plans? What’s the risk of not doing so?
A – In my view, public and government relations go hand-in-hand, and when combined, can have more established and effective outcomes. For starters, a public relations strategy that doesn’t factor in government relations creates a huge blind spot where opportunities are missed. The role of public relations is to consider all stakeholders, and yet, government is often overlooked – unless they show up at your office with a giant cardboard cheque (which can happen). Government provides an access point for companies to tap into influencers, media coverage, strategic partnerships, thought leadership, exposure to new markets and a wide array of contacts and initiatives that could further a business.
Q – Can you give some examples of how PR strategies are more robust and effective when government and political considerations are taken into account?
A – Because the tech sector is growing and changing rapidly, we need expert private-sector voices to help government officials understand what needs changing to improve Canada’s business environment. A strong public relations strategy to develop genuine thought leadership will make a much greater impact when you have the ear of your local government and can help advise and guide our government in a certain area.
Also, as companies expand into new markets in the U.S. and beyond, government departments like Industry Canada or Economic Development and Trade have linkages with their counterparts in other jurisdictions. As a result, they can be helpful ‘connectors’ for business, and that is an opportunity not to be missed, especially if you want to expand beyond Canadian borders.
Q – How would you respond to people who might think that including government officials in PR and communications will cause projects to slow down?
A – I would argue that government moves quite quickly on strong public relations initiatives, because government understands the power of public relations and timing. In my experience, it’s often that businesses don’t fully understand how to navigate government and can sometimes get bounced around initially. If you’ve built government into your public relations strategy, you will already have key government relationships in place for when you need to move fast.
Q – Can you tell us about a media event involving government that went right or went wrong?
A – Having co-ordinated PR activities for countless government visits (including the Queen of England – twice!), I can say the best-laid plans are often sacrificed for a good photo-op. I once planned a shop floor visit with a cabinet minister, and although the advance briefing explicitly required low-heeled, closed-toe shoes, she arrived in five-inch high heels. Safety protocols on a shop floor are critical and the photos of anyone’s visit should demonstrate safe practices (even the Queen wore a lab coat and would have worn safety glasses if asked!). As it was, I did my best to position the photo-op with the minister either behind the podium and/or waist up to avoid scrutiny of her footwear.
Q – What are the top three things businesspeople can do to start including government relations aspects in their PR and outreach?
A – It is all about relationships, and here are three simple things businesses can do right now:
Identify the people – You need to know the key players in your community. Start with your mayor, your Member of Parliament and your Member of Provincial Parliament. If you don’t know who they are, take the time to find out.
Establish relationships – Introduce your business to each level of government, through an articulate email with a link to your company website and/or an invitation to visit your business. Elected officials can be big influencers for your business and you need to meet them. Keep in mind that during the election campaign, visits to businesses will signal support for one candidate over another, so visits may be best after the election finishes.
Sustain relationships – Keep government officials informed of your business progress by adding them to distribution lists for your news releases or newsletters. Your local elected officials cannot advocate for your business if they don’t know anything about it.
Photo: Politics Plug-in columnist Faye Roberts (left) and business partner Crystal Roberts.