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Five essential rules for a successful relationship with the authorities

Date: 10/17/2016

Author: Codrin Scutaru, Deputy Managing Director la McGuireWoods România

Regardless of the industry your company is involved in, of the number of employees or your turnover, at one point you had to interact with the state authorities. Maybe it was all just about getting an authorization, promoting a project or, the issues are far more important, like initiating or modifying a law.

It is a step which has its own challenges and which, if not managed professionally, could generate hurdles with a negative impact on your business. According to a study made this year by McGuireWoods Consulting and Sfera Business, companies understand the benefits that communication experts in relating to public and governmental business. So, the experts are involved in strategic planning in 45% of the cases and in 32% of the cases, their involvement is partial.

All along my career I have been both in the position of the consultant in the field and the position of the person concerned by these actions through the positions I have held in the central administration. Thus, I have had the occasion to draw some conclusions which, in my opinion, can streamline the way we relate to authorities, be it on a central or local level. Here are the 5 I consider most important:

1. Rigorously plan every step, keeping a clear strategy in mind, in line with your business priorities.

Any activity that impacts the results of the company must be based on a strategic approach. I would like to draw up attention on correctly identifying the stakeholders and the mapping of key-messages. It's important to talk to the right person and, moreover, to have a speech adequate to the person and the context.
So, when you set a meeting with a dignitary or a manager from the public sector, you have to know exactly what responsibilities he has and if he is in charge of the field that is of interest to you. Also, you have to set the purpose of each meeting from the get-go and explain your matter as concisely as possible.

2. Always look for ways to interact with stakeholders, both in a formal and informal context.

In most cases, problems don't get solved by staying at the office and sending emails and petitions. I don't believe in this type of approach; email cannot replace human interaction. You have to create or look for a context to have face-to-face meetings so that you may gain visibility and increase your action's success chance. Formal or informal bilateral meetings, during public events, are often the most effective methods to transmit key-messages and get results. These aspects are also practically confirmed by the afore-mentioned study, according to which the three most important Public Affairs & Government Relations activities are: participating in events (65%), meetings with central authorities (62%) and meetings with local authorities (58%).

3. Communicate your messages to the external public to grow the visibility and legitimacy of your actions.

From my experience, situations in which authorities react faster when several entities support an action, are often. So, I recommend, according to the issue and the problem at hand, to communicate messages to the public at large as well or creating coalitions around your project. The careful synchronization of actions from the government to the public communications area is very important and it needs a gradual and consistent approach in communication. In Romania, half of all the companies analyzed by us consider communication as an important activity, but not more important than that of other departments. A significant percentage, 39%, of the Romanian companies perceive communication as a crucial activity within the company.

4. Prioritize your actions, do not open more fronts than you can manage at once.

No matter how much we wish to attract attention on our own problems, we have to realize that authority representatives' time is limited. As such, we must have a short list of subjects we wish to discuss in a set period of time. Moreover, if we try to deliver more messages to stakeholders, their effect will disseminate and could generate the impression of a lack of a strategic and rigorous approach.

5. Be careful about your reputation and that of the organization you represent.

I would conclude with this recommendation, because I consider reputational management to be essential for any collective or individual entity. Besides, the study places as first of three roles of Public Affairs & Government Relations, reputation management with 55% of the answers, followed by legislative changes with 53% and the improvement of the business environment with 50% of the answers.

The speed at which information circulates, the public sensitivity to aspects that pertain to image and potential systemic risks to the business when reputation is not properly managed, force the need for constant concern and careful management of these aspects. Bad reputation will negatively impact any steps taken to relating with public authorities and not only, because authorities choose to avoid associations that could generate risks to them. Moreover, low credibility of the company or person will drastically diminish chances of success of any action, regardless of how legitimate it may be.

Bringing it all together. I would like to highlight a fact, which for some may seem "against the flow": the importance of human interaction will keep growing and technological communication like the email will decrease. So, the best specialists in the field of public affairs and strategic communication will not only be masters in writing impactful messages, they will also have to excel in fields like emotional intelligence, profiling and leadership.

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About the Report

The report, “How Romanian companies communicate strategically” is based on a survey administered between February 24 and April 9, 2016. The report analyzes the responses gathered from 141 respondents to an online questionnaire with 24 questions. Of the 141 respondents, 26 percent were top executives and 34 percent were local marketing and communication professionals. Companies reflected in the research are Romanian (38%), foreign (50%), and those with both domestic and international operations (12%). Of the companies participating in the research, 35 percent have posted revenues of over EUR 100 million in 2015, 11 percent had reported revenues between EUR 50 and EUR 100 million, 12 percent fell between EUR 10 to EUR 50 million, and the remaining 24 percent fell between EUR 1 to EUR 10 million.

About McGuireWoods Consulting

Founded in 1998, McGuireWoods Consulting LLC is a public affairs firm which offers its clients integrated government relations, strategic communications, and business development services at the federal, state, local and international levels. McGuireWoods Consulting is a subsidiary of McGuireWoods LLP, an international law firm, with more than 1000 attorneys. Since 2010, McGuireWoods Consulting has been ranked in the top 20 among the 1,900 government relations firms in Washington, DC, by the National Law Journal in its annual report. For more information, visit: www.mcguirewoodsconsulting.com.

About Sfera Business

Sfera Business is a training and consulting company founded in 2010. We are a training and consulting firm focused on providing integrated solutions in sales, management and customer relations. We work alongside our clients to find practical solutions by which they obtain the desired growth. We always work from personalized customer needs. Each program is dedicated to a single company. As we quickly understand the specific business challenges, we ensure that we achieve the results consistent with management’s expectations. Discover more about us and our team on www.sferabusiness.ro

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