So, how do you sell government relations as one of the most valuable aspects of association membership? We’ve been successful in selling for associations with great government relations and advocacy programs. We believe GR is the unique differentiator for associations in the marketplace. Competition abounds in news, information and events, but is very rare in the advocacy world. So, as associations, we can really leverage this advantage.
The key to being successful in this area is to make advocacy tangible and segmented. For example, let’s break the tendencies down by large, medium and small companies.
Large companies often have their own lobbying firms – with government relations staff on board, or, perhaps a DC corporate office. The association advocacy advantage for these folks? With the resources big companies typically have, they are able to keep abreast of the challenging legislative issues facing their industry through consistent monitoring and research; however, they really need to be in the “room” – and, what I mean by that is they need to be affiliated with the association so it doesn’t make a move, a decision or adopt a policy that could adversely affect their business. They can afford it and their presence at the association table is good business. Make this messaging crystal clear. These large companies want a seat at the table. They are also typically more interested in national debates and political programs.
Then there are the mid-sized companies. It’s strange – I’ve talked to countless associations about this particular group. Interestingly enough, this category causes the most frustration because we have the most difficulty articulating the value proposition. But, I actually believe – they are the companies that need us the most because of the desire to scale and become a larger company.
These companies are usually large enough to be affected by most regulations, so they have risk. However, they often don’t have the government relations or industry affairs infrastructure or experience of larger counterparts. It is not unusual for a one-person shop to have wide-ranging regulatory and legislative responsibilities. The GR “staff” seem less familiar with how things work in Washington. And, more often – they are not located in DC. Almost always the staff members are overburdened with state and national issues. So, it’s these medium-sized companies we can really showcase the value of advocacy and association membership.
Here’s your game plan. Ensure your association government relations and technical experts are rock stars for this membership group. Showcase them in webinars and invite medium-sized companies to participate. Get your government relations experts on sales calls with those medium-sized companies because I guarantee you, their expertise will blow away that person in charge of company government relations efforts.
The third membership category is the small business. From my experience, they’ve shown to be a tricky target for advocacy sales, but that’s not to say there are exceptions to that rule. I’ve worked with several organizations that making fantastic inroads selling government relations to small businesses. Although, most of these types of companies don’t have the bandwidth to keep abreast of legislative and regulatory issues of concern. So sell them on the political operations you have in place, and offer involvement in your PACs and arrange Congressional visits. And, oh, by the way, Congressional folks often WANT to meet with small businesses. This fact makes for a great connection – and, a hugely persuasive argument for getting this small business on board.
So my recommendation is to segment your member groups based on these types of general themes. And, you can sell government relations and advocacy to any prospect in your industry that way. But you have to really cut and dice up your membership segments to be successful.
For more on advocacy and public affairs, get my book Association Hustle!