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How to talk to Government in the era of COVID-19

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‘Hello? Is anyone there?’

Are you trying to communicate with Governments and hitting brick walls? It could feel like no one in Government is listening to you at the moment. There is still a role for business to engage with Government – in fact, now more than ever, Government needs some bespoke solutions from the private sector.

Cornerstone’s Government Relations professionals share some tips for how to engage in a time of lockdown, when government seems like an elusive and unpredictable place.

Be patient

Entire teams of Government departments have been redeployed to deal with the mechanics and logistics of State-wide lockdowns. As such, much of the ‘business as usual’ methodology has been put on hold while Ministerial staff and public servants are instructed to deal with urgent priorities to keep the machinery of government running.

Some Government employees have been pushed into a State of paralysis as their senior personnel may have been redirected on a COVID taskforce or is swamped with managing logistical changes to a portfolio.

Although it may seem like a nebulous fog, Government is still operating and will still engage with stakeholders. Tempering expectations of timeframes is the most prudent thing to do here, in order to avoid wasting energy being frustrated with an interruption in engagement.

Be empathetic, not entitled

When talking to Government – or checking in to see where things are up to with your issue – don’t criticise the relevant person for not prioritising your issue. The most effective form of advocacy is a carrot, not a stick. Being kind and understanding of the situation they must be in, and checking to make sure they are ok themselves, will be appreciated will help you stand out from the crowd as someone who is good to deal with. You will stay in their memory and find yourself at the top of the pile when the dust of COVID settles and they get back to their usual jobs.

Measure and record your progress

The utility of this is action to be able to demonstrate to Government the things you have achieved in your policy space since you last spoke. This will demonstrate initiative, energy, and a willingness to progress your issue without waiting around for Government to solve your problems for you.

Understand the lay of the land

Before you reach out to a particular department or Minister, ensure that you are up to date with the news or developments in that portfolio. A quick glance online beforehand could result in you being able to comment on recent developments of interest, which shows you are engaged and understand the other events and priorities in that portfolio. On the other side of the coin, some desktop research may lead you to hold off for a week while their portfolio manages a crisis – and, critically, avoids your correspondence being lost in a sea of communications.

Prepare a shovel ready solution that can be delivered to government as a COVID recovery

Following on from above, if there is an identified problem in an area, share the language and demonstrate that you understand that this must be a problem for Government, not just your organisation.

Once you have demonstrated this policy alignment, provide a sophisticated, costed solution for Government to keep up their sleeve. Often staff need respond quickly to events or problems, so if a sophisticated and well-thought through solution can be given to them on a platter, they will inevitably store it for a rainy day and bring it out as part of a package when they need to. Ideally, this solution will be costed and could have the option of being scalable if the Government decides they need more or less of the solution in specific areas

Note this tip is not inclusive of requesting for year-on-year recurrent funding, but rather a ‘low hanging fruit’ style option for a government to include in a funding pitch.

Exude confidence and calm

Never underestimate the sheer quantity of anger and frenetic energy that is contained in communications to Government. Providing a calm and confident approach will reassure Government that you are professional and sophisticated. This also means sending one polished piece of correspondence, rather than multiple scattered emails and thoughts.

Cornerstone’s current and potential clients can be assured that our experienced team will continue to progress your priorities and welcome the opportunity to discuss navigating these challenging times.