Bonnie Feigenbaum is Senior Consultant, Public Affairs with TNKR Media, as well as a business communications instructor at Montreal’s McGill University. She is the former chief of staff to a federal member of parliament and town councillor in Hampstead, Quebec.
If you are a business leader and want to get the attention of government, following a diligent public relations and content plan, consistently, to build your arguments and further thought leadership in your industry should be your first major communications project. Once you’ve followed the advice of your web, marketing and PR people, to take things to the next level and affect policy change, you’ll need the help of a public affairs consultant, and perhaps a government relations (GR) consultant.
Not all public relations activities of a political nature, like community organizing or opinion-writing, are considered government relations. When you reach out to anyone in government for any reason, elected officials or unelected bureaucrats, that becomes GR and requires registration for lobbying in your jurisdiction.
GR involves developing connections with all levels of government and public agencies, monitoring government policy and engaging in advocacy to support your organization’s mission and priority initiatives. The best advocacy strategy is to position yourself as an institutional partner and expert on emerging issues. This maintains open lines of communication and generates support for your mandate and activities within government, and with key partners in the government’s orbit.
It is important to be aware of any government initiatives that could affect your operations and be ready to engage and present your position, sometimes with little notice.
Government takes, but also gives
At the most basic level, all governments have a financial impact on how businesses operate. For example, federal and provincial business taxes are levied and property owners and renters pay municipal property taxes.
As well, provincial governments are responsible for setting the minimum wage, so all business-owners should pay some attention since government can have a very direct impact on the bottom line. There are many fees and permits to pay in order to operate businesses in any municipality, and many such permissions will take you by surprise!
On the other hand, what all three levels of government can do is give you money, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, in the form of grants or loans, especially to support profit and nonprofit organizations.
A free and easy way to get the information on all federal grants available is through the Library of Parliament. You would simply have to contact your Member of Parliament’s constituency office and send them your organization’s mission or mandate statement and request the search. The Library of Parliament will get back to you within a week or so with all the grants; federal, provincial, municipal and even some foundation grants available to you.
MP’s cannot contribute directly to a charity or cause except personally but, for nonprofits in particular, there is up to 10% of their office budget that they can use on advertising; you could request a message for any fundraising efforts your organization might be putting together. Even a small event program ad or message from an elected official can add credibility to an event, attracting private sponsorship or investment.
For many provincial MLAs and MNAs, as well as many municipal councillors, there are reserved discretionary funds that elected officials can grant to the nonprofit activities within their territory. For these scenarios, applicants need to prepare well-written, diligent grant proposals with audit-ready financial metrics to support your request (and to ensure the politician doesn’t waste precious public funds).
If this seems all too complicated and overwhelming, the office of your elected officials should be able to help you in these GR endeavours by directing you to the correct government bodies, and sometimes even writing a support letter on your organization’s behalf.
It never hurts to ask… And if what’s needed to get the attention of government is more of a nudge, then call your public affairs or government relations consultant.
Bonnie Feigenbaum is Senior Consultant, Public Affairs with TNKR Media.