FH Salon: Making the Government Relationship Work

On December 15th FleishmanHillard Toronto was pleased to welcome Karim Bardeesy to speak with clients about ‘Making the Government Relationship Work.’ Karim would certainly know – until recently, he served as Deputy Principal Secretary to Premier Kathleen Wynne, and prior to that as Executive Director of Policy for Premier Wynne and the Hon. Dalton McGuinty.

With the tectonic plates of politics shifting rapidly, it is more important than ever to understand how policy is developed and to act on best practices to deliver your message to key policy makers and political leaders.

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Throughout his engaging presentation, Karim emphasized the importance of having focus and context – in other words, having a good sense of where your subject or ‘ask’ fits within the broader government agenda. Is it additive to the government’s existing mandate or a ‘hail mary?’ How does it fit within key timelines related to your sector or specific subject area, whether they be pre-budget or ongoing consultations? And are the people you are meeting the decision makers that oversee your area of interest?

Well planned and executed Public Affairs work is not a one-and-done and should be considered as a continuum, and the same principle can be applied to one of its most fundamental elements – Government Relations. With political staff often bouncing from one meeting to the next, the ability to focus your discussion with them on specific items that can be tied back in some way to the broader government agenda will often be more memorable and have greater success of breaking through.

That isn’t to say there’s no value in introductory meetings without direct focus on a specific ‘ask.’ In fact, those are critically important to helping establish an open working relationship and building credibility for your organization within relevant ministries. But, as Karim said, it is important to have your organization’s ‘story’ ready to tell in a focused, compelling, straightforward and relevant way.

Ultimately, the story you tell is that of your own organization (what your values are and what you do) but also, in time, the story of your relationship with government: experiences you’ve had together, and challenges you have faced and overcome together for mutual benefit. And of course, being able to bring forward a creative and flexible solution has a far better chance of being considered than an inflexible ask, with no ‘best alternative’ ready.

That storytelling is such an important part of Public Affairs writ large and Government Relations should not be surprising. A compelling narrative is at the heart of all impactful communications and central to shifting or confirming opinions. What Karim so succinctly conveyed, and what our deep experience confirms, is that framing the narrative in a way that is sensitive to and integrated with the nuances and political realities that exist in Ontario is central to achieving your organization’s ultimate policy objectives.