It was great to see so many members of the Natural Products Association during the annual Natural Products Day in Washington, D.C. For those of you who were not able to participate, I write to provide you with a written “pep talk” and urge you to make relationships with your elected officials. From local board members to your member of Congress, these relationships should be a key tool in your business toolbox.
You may be asking yourself, “What’s the point?” or “Why would an elected official listen to me?” Elected officials in every level of government, from local county boards to the president of the United States, are elected to represent you, their constituents. Elected officials are asked to make many decisions on your behalf and many decisions that will have an effect on you and your business. Although we place a heavy amount of responsibility on our elected officials, we cannot expect them to be experts in every issue and industry that they are tasked with representing. It is therefore paramount that you are meeting and educating your elected officials on the issues that matter most to you and your business.
The short-term goal of any meeting with an elected official should be to effectively introduce yourself and your business to the official and share how the issues in front of him or her will affect you. The long-term goal of these meetings should be to establish a line of communication that can be utilized to set up subsequent meetings and build a relationship. Elected officials are always looking for “allies” in their elective districts who they can count on to provide timely advice and information, trusted background on a particular issue and local backing when they need to defend a vote or decision. Your long-term goal should be to build an honest, trusting relationship with your elected official; establishing yourself as one of their “go-to” resources in their district.
During these relationship-building efforts, it is important to remember that it is highly unlikely that any elected official will agree with you 100 percent of the time. Do not let this end the relationship or block the lines of communication, but rather use these situations as a stepping stone to build a deeper relationship by showing the elected official you want to continue to engage with him or her. Viewpoints and circumstances can change, so it is important that you continue to educate and share with the elected official how their decisions impact your business.
Having spent more than 10 years working on Capitol Hill and now working at The Keelen Group representing the Natural Products Association, I have sat on both sides of the table in meetings such as these. I have met with presidents of universities, CEO’s of major corporations and numerous foreign dignitaries; however the most powerful and effective meetings I have participated in have been with local citizens who are able to tell their story and share the struggles and successes of their businesses.
I would challenge you to not see meeting elected officials as time away from your business, but rather an investment. While this investment is not a traditional capital investment, the potential return on is larger than those you can expect from any other investment. The more industry partners we have investing in these relationships and educating elected officials, the more our industry will thrive.
Stephen A. Borg is vice president of The Keelen Group, a full-service lobbying firm that works with the Natural Products Association.