|Derek M. LaVallee|
As one of my clients launches a mobile banking Web site, my thoughts once again turn to technology and how it has caused industry lines to blur. In communications, like so many other fields, this trend of convergence has caused a sea change in the way public affairs professionals do business. Today we are faced with the emerging challenge of working amid the complexities created by this movement. Simply put, the lines separating the selfish public affairs interests of previously monolithic industries are fast wearing thin.
Industries now need to work together to ensure their mutual interests are protected and not adversely affected by regulations and legislations trying to keep pace. As examples of industry conversion propagate, the need to establish and communicate cohesive public affairs initiatives for conjoined industries, rather than one alone, is becoming a needed area of expertise.
Convergence is happening all around us. Consider how the explosion of nutraceutical products is forcing food and pharmaceutical industries together. In February in my home state of Maine, a consortium comprised of more than 50 manufacturers, agricultural groups and technology suppliers announced plans to use two of the state’s most important resources—potatoes and trees—to make bioplastics.
The clean energy industry is also experiencing significant convergence. Another client of mine, a pioneer in the design and installation of microgrids, integrates a microprocessor in its engineering that is made by a global information technology company.
Both companies are advocating for federal investment in the nascent energy platform. Before I devised a government engagement strategy, it was imperative for me to be aware of all of the other policy initiatives the IT company was advocating for independent of their partnership with my client. Without that knowledge, I may have inadvertently pursued a funding source already allocated for another one of the IT company’s projects that could be more essential or lucrative for them and, down the line, my client.
Pushing for legislative and regulatory changes in a vacuum, without considering the implications of industry convergence, could yield short-term benefits at the expense of long-term success.
I spoke with Peter Schroeder, a reporter for The Hill —the newspaper for and about the U.S. Congress—to get his point of view on the transformation that I’ve been noting, and he concurred: “Given the rapid advancements in technology in recent years, you are seeing some industries that once would have little in common begin to join forces on particular areas of mutual interest,” says Schroeder. “While that can make advocacy work more complicated, some groups also take advantage of those new alliances as a way to put more weight behind their efforts.”
What can public affairs pros do to best navigate this new era of convergence? Here are four to-do’s:
• Be forthcoming (no, really): While public affairs objectives and the tactics used to achieve them are typically kept confidential (and rightly so), it is imperative to share them with strategic partners to ensure they are aligned or, at the very least, not working against each other.
• Collaborate (1+1=3): Policy agendas with the greatest chance for success in today’s political environment will be advocated by groups leveraging their collective perspective and influence. Effective coalitions highlight policies that benefit the broadest amount of stakeholders and protect partners from potential controversial issues and the stigma of self interest.
• Offer solutions (solve problems): Lawmakers spend a lot of time refereeing divergent interests. Those who proactively provide alternatives that represent consensus will avoid being stuck with feckless policies or unintended consequences.
• Be a source (not always a salesperson): Even reporters who are issue experts depend on perspectives from a wide range of sources. As convergence continually creates new and unique inter-industry segments, public policy media often struggle to provide truly informed news and analysis. Offering periodic updates (not pitches with an expectation of coverage) on industry developments will cultivate relationships and prevent your clients from falling prey to unfair reporting based on sloppy research.
Derek M. LaVallee is director of public affairs and public relations at Kemp Goldberg Partners, and a former White House and Pentagon staffer in the Clinton Administration. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.