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public affairs

How to Avoid WICKED Problems


How to Avoid WICKED Problems

Despite the festive aurora of Halloween we are surrounded by wicked problems.  They affect a lot of people and for a company they can disrupt business or even change the industry. To deal with these problems, companies need to be agile and both need to deal with issues quickly and easily before an issue becomes a wicked problem.


Campaigns should be about educating candidates about you.


Campaigns should be about educating candidates about you.

Identifying, assessing, prioritizing and responding to the opportunities and risks that the public policy environment throws at an organization is vital to an organization’s success. An organization's response to the regulatory, legislative and political challenges may include seeking to influence that change through a strategic communications plan, the media and through strategic partnerships and engagement.

 With the primary over, it is important to work pro-actively to build strategic yet meaningful relationships with key stakeholders and develop the strategies to influence public opinion and the opinions of government leaders during the next legislative session.

Elections are about change. And change is at the core an effective public affairs strategy. Public affairs professionals help companies and individuals guide the changing landscape of politics, personalities and policy. What will a new legislature or administration mean for your business?  Or a new congress or even a new committee chair?

As we know focus on the general election, take advantage of the campaign to educate the candidates about your business. Invite them in to your factory for a tour, have them meet your members and work pro-actively to develop strategic and meaningful relationships.






To Move Michigan Forward, we must first create a vision that a majority of stakeholders can agree on. This vision will help everyone focus on the core issues and when they stray toward politics, we can bring them back to the issue. This is the process by which we can start stakeholder engagement.

At each step of the way, we will identify quick wins or mutual gains for each stakeholder, to build trust and let them know we are all in this fight together. And at each step, we share information to help each of us make informed decisions. If it is not something we can agree on, then we should move to the next issue and focus on those issues that we can agree on.

The use of ADR processes by the courts and federal government has been widely celebrated as a more efficient and cost effective method of conflict resolution. Mediation is a voluntary, confidential process in which a trained, impartial mediator helps people examine their mutual problems, identify and consider options and carefully consider possible resolutions. A mediator has the experience to bring disputing parties together and help them draw out a successful resolution while preventing an impasse during the negotiations, or otherwise prevent the discussions from breaking down. Unlike a judge or arbitrator, a mediator does not make the decisions nor do they offer solutions. They help separate the politics from the process, help the parties find a common ground, build trust and identify potential solutions to agree on. 

Public policy dispute resolution focuses on the resolution of issues affecting the public, such as: Transportation; land use, special education, election districts and healthcare.  With public policy disputes, the issues tend to be a bit more polarizing, emotional and there are often a number of stakeholders from the community, including non-profits and business groups, and governments at a local, state and federal level.

Whether it is a public policy dispute or a dispute between neighbors, the goal of public any dispute resolution is to save money, preserve relationships and take control over the decisions. When it involves a public policy dispute, it is helpful and most effective if it creates the opportunity for all voices to be heard. It is a process being used in the planning process of multiple projects, including economic development projects in Austin, Texas and Salt Lake City Utah. 

In any mediation, the first step in the mediation process is to get both parties to agree to use a mediator. That is actually the first agreement both parties make together and we are on the way to developing trust and building a relationship.

While many states have dispute resolution clauses in key legislation or dispute resolution centers at universities, the State of Michigan does not. The ADR Section to the State Bar of Michigan, continues to talk with universities about creating a "Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution Services," and continues to talk with legislators.  However, since no university has yet to step forward in creating such a center, in part due to funding, The ADR Section is trying to show by example, the benefits of ADR.

Today’s political reality is that politics is by nature partisan and partisan politics has now overtaken the capitol. In addition, people and business are demanding a greater role in the policy making process so more voices are competing to make public policy that benefits or protects them. 

After Tuesday’s election, it is time our elected leaders push politics aside and focus on the big picture of helping Michigan Move Forward.


Building Capital in Developing Relationships


Building Capital in Developing Relationships

Attending trade shows and conferences can be a tedious process. For many people, it takes us away from our families, sometimes for a week or more. While our children may think we are traveling to exotic locations, these events translate into long hours walking and talking. While some use it to sell a product or service, these events should be more about developing strategic relationships.

In attending conferences:

  • Know who you want to talk to
  • Know what you want to say
  • Be flexible and don't worry if you don't meet those that you had on your list.
  • Follow up -- Write a personal note to every business card your receive, follow up with a phone call, recall your conversation and suggesting next steps
  • Now make the hard sale
  • Close the deal

Conferences provide an opportunity to expand your network face-to-face and before you start to sell something, it is important to have or to make a connection so then you can develop the trust and later the business.

After all, we all know why we attend these events, to learn about best practices, to spy on the competition and to get in front of the buyers. However, I personally get turned off from those trying to make the "hard sale." I get it you have something you think I can use or need but you should first take the time to see if it is even relevant to what I do or to whom I represent. But first take the time to know me and I will take the time to know you. If I can't use your product or service perhaps I know someone who does, but if you go straight to the sale. Let's be friends first and build the capital in developing relationships that are mutually beneficial. 



Challenging the Status Quo by Creating a Vision

Gone are the days when you found a job and stayed in that job until you retired. Today, the workforce is more mobile, in part due to the economy and the need to go where the jobs are and in party due to technology. As times change, so too must our political system and our political leaders should work harder at communicating their vision for improving their world. But that vision should not be theirs alone. It should be consensus-driven so that others can stand with the Mayor, Governor and others in supporting that vision. Once they have that vision, they can now create their agenda.  What issues will become their priority and how will they go about implementing that agenda.

So communicating that vision and agenda will be vital to seeing it through. Why is this the right thing to do now? Does it reflect reality so that I can get others to rally behind it?

To lead the conversion, our leaders need to lead the conversation, but also listen to what others have to say and adjust their plans to reflect the political and economic realities. People are looking for solutions. Solutions that are immediate but also pro-active with long-term benefits

Change is never easy, but in order to change we have to know where you are going. To help you in the process we need to understand the why, the what and the how. We need to become emotionally-connected through common values. We will help you only if we can trust you and for that we need to start developing a relationship.

Once we begin the discussion and build the trust we will come to realize that we are all in this together and we each have a role to play -- So let’s support each other.



Telling Your Story to Legislators

Media at Capitol You know how local, state and federal policies impact the day-to-day life of your program, association or company than any member of Congress, the legislature or city council, so many elected officials need you to help them understand the issues, establish a connection and work collectively to find solutions. When we have the opportunity to talk with your Mayor, Member of Congress, State Representative or State Senator, we have to be sure to tell the stories that are going to make the most sense to them and encourage them to act if that is an appropriate next step.

Ideally, you would establish relationships with lawmakers long before you ever need them. This could be due to your involvement in the community, a pre-existing relationship from school, through your children and their activities, based on meetings where you have invited them to tour your business or their political advocacy or attending fundraisers and other events.

Regardless of when you meet them, you still need to know your story and the messages you wish to convey. Here are 3 tips to telling your story to legislators:

1. Share the Strongest Message

  • Share a couple of stories about your program.
  • Thank him/her for past and ongoing support.
  • Let them know what they can do this year.

You may find yourself meeting with a legislator or staffer who offers that they are connected in someway to your organization or issue.  Seize that link and deepen the connection.  However, in many other instances, they may not be familiar with your organization or issue. This is your chance to advise the member on the vital issues in your industry.

  • Start with the basics of what you do and who you serve; and,
  • Why you need their support or leadership.

2. Tell the stories that are relevant, newsworthy and tied to a larger agenda so that they the lawmakers are more likely to seize it as their issue

  • Find out as much as you can about your Senator and Representative.
  • Quantify the impact your organization and issue has on the economy, in the community and around the industry.
  • Localize the issue so that they can see the connection/impact in their district
  • If they don’t seem to support your issue, don’t argue with them. Work to just disagree, focus on what you can agree on and move on.
  • Use the meeting opportunity to be conversational, and get to know one another. Convey that you can be a friendly resource any time.
  • Think about what you want to bring to the meeting:  A Fact Sheet on the organization and issue, key contacts, annual report, latest newsletter, media clips, key contacts etc.

3. You are the expert!

Most of the time, legislators want to know the basics. So what may seem basic to you is information they are hearing for the first time.

And just relax. They may be elected officials with ornate offices (at least some of them), they are still people that you elected. They could even live in your neighborhood.

Visit us later this week to find a template to CRAFTING YOUR STORY.



What I do ...

I am a public relations executive, who just happens to be a lawyer. So if you have a story to tell, I help you tell it. Whether or not you have a reputation, I help you build it and enhance it. If you have business goals, I help you achieve it and if you are looking to build trust with key decision makers, I help you build it. I also,

  • Inform legislators and regulators;
  • Engage stakeholders;
  • Empower people;
  • Notify employees;
  • Create trust;
  • Mobilize a community;
  • Re-assure a public;
  • Change behavior;
  • Share a story;
  • Develop relationships; and,
  • Suggest action



Change is upon us - Do you have the relationships to make it happen?

Last week, more than 400 people filed to run for the Michigan House of Representatives, alone.  That does not include the State Senate, Congress and the various county seats now open, not to mention judicial races and the various county elections. Some will withdraw their names before the ballots are printed and others will vigorously campaign over the next several months, before the August primary and November general election. Earlier this month, the French elected a new President, voting for change over the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy.  In Greece, after a May 6 election, voters could not decide on a single ruling party to turn that country around and now Greece is at a political impasse.  In Russia, Dmitry Medvedev ceded the Russian Presidency back to Vladimir Putin, despite recent protests. In China, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao wil handover the presidency in 2013 and the Prime Minstership to Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. Also in 2012, the following countries will host elections: Mexico (July 1), Venezuela (October 7), Egypt  Kenya (August 14) Taiwan (January 14, 2013).

In November, we too will have the opportunity to select or re-select whom we want to run the United States of America. Just as we voted for “Change” in 2008, by selected Barack Obama as President, voters in Democracies world-wide are now starting to vote for Change – Will Change come to America again?

We can see in some pockets, “Change” is already occurring. For example, in Indiana, long-time U.S. Senator Richard Lugar lost his election, in the primary.

Just as political incumbents are starting to fall, so to are our corporate CEOs. The CEOs of Yahoo, Best Buy, AOL, Avon and JPMorgan have all left or resigned. There is no doubt that we will see new faces in places that will impact us and where our daily and professional lives collide.  And as we move forward, so to must our relationships with key decision makers who have influence over us.

But how much do we really know about these people? What is their agenda? Why and How did they get into this position? What motivates them and how can we develop meaningful relationships with them before we need their assistance? How much do they about me, about my company and about my agenda?

Campaigns are all about raising awareness, developing name ID, exchanging ideas and debating solutions for problems we face. It is time that we start using campaigns to educate the candidates on what we do as businesses, as unions, as entrepreneurs, educators and the like. Just as a candidate will approach you asking you for your vote, take them aside and start telling them about you.

Start now by developing a relationship with them. It does not matter if they are a Democrat or a Republican, if they drink tea or even something else. Relationships are built around trust, around issues and around ideas. It is time we start exchanging them so that we stay on top of the change, develop the relations and take an active role in the future direction of our city, county, state, country, business, industry and family.



Creating the infrastructure in developing stratregic relationships

Is it really true that it is not what we know, it is who we know?  When I became the Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary to the Mayor, a client warned me, "Remember, people don't respect you in this role for who you are, they respond to you because of your title." He was right. I was the spokesperson not just for the Mayor but for the City and calls were returned immediately and action always resulted from those calls. But as a very public and senior government official I did not always know who was calling or why, so I approached each call cautiously, yet listened to see what needed to happen next. I also was accessible and responsive.
Back in the private sector, I built my practice and my reputation around relationships -- not necessarily the number of people I know, but around the quality I know them from. In the end, relationships are built around trust. In cultivating and foster relationships, it is important to create the infrastructure to support an external relations effort.  This includes:
  • Creating an agenda -- What is your goal for reaching out to certain people and what do you hope to gain or offer when you talk with them?
  • Set the organization's priorities - Based on your agenda, what is a priority and what issues can wait.
  • Who do you know? -- Based on those priorities who do we need to know and who should we get to know....Are they running for election? If so, you need to familiarize yourself with the political landscape as well.
  • Build the support -- Once you know what  you will talk about and to whom, you now need the supporting materials to help make your case. Therefore, you should develop the talking points and support materials to help you make your point.
  • Know the politics -- In engaging elected officials, it is important to become familiar with the legislative, political and regulatory landscape....become familiar with their agendas and create a constant contact system to remain top-of-mind program for board members to engage your key targets.
A company also should continue to develop an ongoing media relations and PR strategy that engages its' core market in ways that positions the organization as thought leaders in the industry, trend setters and a go to organization for fulfilling a void in the community. Therefore, approach a variety of media, such as your local daily, The Huffington Post (which also covers more local issues), industry/trade publications and other media, while creating a blog through their channels or your own, to talk about your core issues. Based on your agenda and who you need to meet with, I would then create a calendar of must attend events or organizations to become familiar with and dedicate the resources for attending and perhaps sponsoring a few of those events.
Depending on your priorities and goals and the immediacy of both, in 2012, I would spend my time creating the infrastructure in developing relationships, while getting engaged in specific areas where appropriate. I also suggest joining relevant organizations where you can take an active role to learn the ropes and eventually take the lead.  Then in 2013, you will be more comfortable and confident in a more active and involved engagement strategy and help further your organization's goals. In 2012, business will continue to be built around relationships and trust. So it is important that you start today in identifying those relationships you want to build.



Seizing the debate on health care reform to promote your interests

Most of us have seen the town hall meetings that Members of Congress are having on health care insurance reform and the heated discussions (or chants) now taking place. While individuals take issue with the legislation, organizations should seize the opportunity to share their story, to highlight their organization's mission as it relates to the debate and to feature or highlight their members to show by example, what works and what doesn't, or what should be done as a result of the debate. While debating the contents of the legislation is important, it also is a great opportunity to use the debate to promote your organization, your members or your individual company.

While print media is becoming more and more limited, it helps to have a story that is timely, that is relevant and that is interesting. Now is the time to invest in public relations, issues management and relationship building activities to promote your cause and help position your organization for further resources down the road.



Law Firms Must Adjust To Meet Client Demands

From the boardroom to the bedroom, government affects everything we do. So its time to embrace it and learn how we make government work for us. And perhaps more important, in addition to providing our clients with a legal remedy, we must also provide them the opportunity to seek legislative remedies or use the court of public opinion to reach their business objectives. Many clients are turning to law firms to assist in the public policy process, yet many firms are ill equipped to handle government relations and are not well versed in public relations as a legal tactic. Yet it is the lawyer who knows the law and knows what laws would best benefit their clients as well as how to best position their clients in either a court of law or court of public opinion. It is the lobbyist that knows how to effect legislative change and to assist in drafting the right laws. And it is the brand manager, who knows how to position the issue and the client so that everyone emerges a winner.

In addition, with government getting bigger and more complex, and government funding becoming sparse, regional mid-sized law firms are well equipped to create a practice that blends law, media and public relations with the legal expertise many mid-sized firms have.

Also, with budgets getting tighter, the government is seeking greater partnerships with the private sector. With a solid client base, law firms are well-positioned to assist clients in finding creative opportunities within the government and sound private sector solutions for public problems.

More and more issues in Congress and the state legislatures are having a direct impact on business. Businesses are learning that they can no longer sit on the sidelines when government decisions directly impact their future. Likewise, with tough economic times, businesses are looking for new areas to expand. And despite tough economic times, securing a government contract remains one of the most sought after business development opportunities.

Businesses today cannot afford to ignore the legislative process and adjust to new laws once they are passed. To be successful, business must stay current on legislative issues that could have repercussions on their business or industry. They must also seek to effectuate change where appropriate making lobbying, government relations and public affairs a natural extension of the legal services law firms are already providing.

By integrating strategic communications and public affairs into the practice, combining law, policy, politics and strategic communications, attorneys will provide new and existing clients and integrated approach to their legal problems. This practice group will provide firms with new channels to cross-sell firm services and maintain core clients by expanding into new areas to complement your firm’s legal practice. A successful public affairs and strategic communications group will not only help stand out from other law firms, but it will enhance their core practice groups, advance client relations and increase firm profits, while developing new business.



Today's legal market demands broad business solutions

Today’s legal market demands a broad range of business solutions lawyers can provide their clients. A strategic communications plan can prove to be an extremely helpful tool law firms can provide their clients. For example, in today’s 24/7 media culture, companies lack access and lack control to the media who cover their industry and to the people that talk about them on-line. In addition, businesses often find themselves navigating a complex environment that requires dealing simultaneously with litigation, governmental and regulatory actions, media scrutiny, and public perception. Often times, business strategy demands a multi-disciplinary approach of legal action, public relations and government relations. Knowing where these issues converge can help protect your reputation and enhance your position in the marketplace.

For example, last week, an article in the Michigan Lawyer's Weekly unveiled new court rules directing the jury not to Twitter about the case before them or turn to the Internet for information beyond that which was presented to them in the court. Social media is not only becoming some thing for us to stay in touch with friends, it is becoming a new area to look out for our clients interests and/or a new medium to promote our practice.

Also, in just seven months a number of key bills have been enacted by Congress and President Obama, including: The economic stimulus package; Expansion of SCHIP; Pentagon acquisition reforms; & other key reforms. Congress returned this week to tackle a number of difficult issues, before their August recess, including: Energy & Climate legislation; Health Care Reform; FY 2010 Appropriations; Reauthorization of the transportation bill; Financial regulation; food safety, and Immigration reform.

Attorneys in high-profile cases should extend their services beyond the courtroom and in the court of public opinion. Therefore, lawyers will need skilled advice as to how to position their clients before the media or in front of the legislature, while protecting their legal rights.

Seeking PR counsel is an important aspect of representing clients in high-profile cases. Even if the issue is a small matter, there is no way we can tell how public opinion can or will shape the outcome of a case. Therefore, in engaging PR Counsel:

Have the lawyer retain the PR firm as opposed to your client directly, to try to preserve attorney-client privilege;

The PR counsel should consult with the client, only in the presence of an attorney and first talk things over with the attorney to seek their support and buy-in for the PR strategy.

Once a PR firm is engaged, they will (depending on the strategy): Asses the situation, review any media to date;

Create key messages;

Create talking points for key audiences including, staff, vendors, clients and the media;

Using the key messages, educate and sensitize the media to mitigate damage or control the story;

Facilitate interviews; and,

Provide media/spokesperson training.

“An attorney’s duties do not begin inside the courtroom door. He or she cannot ignore the practical implications of a legal proceeding for the client." See Gentile v State bar of Nevada (Kennedy opinion) 510 US 1030, 1043 (1991). Just as an attorney may recommend a plea bargain or civil settlement to avoid the adverse consequences of a possible loss after trial, so too an attorney may take reasonable steps to defend a client’s reputation…in the court of public opinion

In today’s fast-paced environment, where it may take years to build up one’s reputation and only seconds to destroy it, a lawyers role as advocate extends to managing their clients’ reputations inside and out of the courtroom.



Obama -- Creating & becoming your brand

Despite running for President, Barack Obama has created a unique brand that has changed the political landscape. According to Keith Reinhard, chairman emeritus of DDB Worldwide, "Barak Obama is three things you want in a brand: (1) new, (2) different and (3) attractive." And Obama has spread his brand on a new medium that many of us are still trying to figure out -- New media and online social networks. Any forward-thinking business should take note of Obama's rise, despite what you may or may not think of him. According to the April 2008 issue of Fast Company, social networking poses challenges for marketers no matter what or whom they are selling. Companies must cede a certain degree of control over their brands if they are to leverage their on-line presence. features constant updates, videos, photos, ring tones, widgets and events to give supporters a reason to come back to their site. On for example, the campaign's quasi social network, guests can create their own blog, send policy recommendations, set up their own mini-fundraising site, organize an event, even use a phone bank widget to get call lists and scripts to canvass from home. John McCain's and Hillary Clinton's site offers similar networking tools as does Obama, but Obama has invested more in building his brand both on and off-line. It sure beats the "meet-ups" and "move-ons" from the 2004 presidential election. The Obama campaign has also tapped other on-line communities. And while he, like others, must cede some control, you can still stay on message and pass on your messages to others. However, like everything else, you need to continually monitor the web and act or react accordingly. The best strategy however for an on-line presence, is to build your brand, connect with a diversity of viewers and engage others in the discussion.