Story image

Something to say to government? SMBs often last to be heard

29 Aug 18

No matter what government is in power, regional business owners may feel like those in central government are worlds away and have no idea how to connect.

Many organisations and non-profits know they should interact with elected representatives, but taking action is difficult.

That will be the subject of an upcoming CRUNCH session at Waikato Innovation Park next week, which will bring government relations experts together to discuss government relations for senior leaders.

Three panellists will also explain how government works, as well as tips on how to engage with local MPs and their offices.

According to HMC Communications director Heather Claycomb, many businesses should prioritise getting in front of government.

“This might be to influence policy, keep ahead of regulatory changes, advocate for something that matters to your organisation or build government networks and relationships.”

While government relations may be daunting for some, it helps if there’s a clear goal, if businesses have the right relationships, and the right knowledge.

“Especially if you haven’t done it before, engaging with government can seem like a big hurdle to overcome,” she says. “But if you start out with a clear strategy outlining your objectives, mixed with some government know-how, you will get results,” Claycomb says.

HSB Government Relations director Holly Bennett adds that although parliamentary engagement is increasing, startups and SMBs aren’t using the practice enough.

She adds that small businesses are the backbone of New Zealand’s economy, but often they are the last ones to be heard.

“No matter what political colours occupy the Beehive, the internal processes for engaging with government are relatively fixed and knowing the basics can go a long way in making a successful approach.”

Former Department of Internal Affairs communications advisor Sarah-Lee Crellin adds that research is a key part of the process.

“Do your research before you launch into ‘talking to Wellington’. Find out who you want to talk to and how you want to tell your story, then finely hone your approach because the difference between good and amazing is often in the detail.”

“There are many ministerial officials and staff who are well-placed to help with enquiries. They have intricate knowledge of their minister’s portfolio and depending on your project or cause, can be really helpful.”

HMC Communications senior strategic advisor Peta Goldsworthy says government relations need to align with a company’s wider communications and engagement strategy. It’s a long game that requires holistic planning.

“We’re now nearly a year on from the change in government, so the learning lunch is a good opportunity to hear how government relations is being done in this new era and how to factor it into your organisation’s engagement.”