Key to Government Affairs Success: Building Strong Relationships

Jean Cantrell, Head of Government Affairs, Signify

Jean Cantrell of Philips Lighting has a lot of unique features to her job—she runs the federal, state, and local government affairs operations for the business, she grew the state and local operations from scratch, works significantly in government procurement as well as policy, and she does it all as a one-woman operation.

When Cantrell spoke with Quorum, she shared advice about how to do each of these things well—run government affairs at each level of government, grow a government affairs operation from the ground up, and operate as a one person team. Each of these topics, however, came back to one big idea—to do government affairs, and to do it well, you need to form strong relationships.

Throughout her years of experience working with Philips, here are three lessons Cantrell has learned about why having strong relationships is critical to success in government affairs.

Find Company Champions in Every State

It’s highly unlikely that a company is able to have a government affairs team member on the ground in every state, so for Cantrell, it’s critical to have stakeholders in all 50 states. This is especially true for her as she flies solo on Philips Lighting state affairs.

“You really have to depend on stakeholder groups in order to kind of be a force multiplier for you,” Cantrell said. “Sometimes you don’t really have a specific issue in a particular state but my approach has been to always have a champion in a state where I don’t have a particular nexus today.”

Stakeholders can come in multiple forms. First, she looks if Philips has employees in a particular state. If there isn’t a company presence, she looks to other stakeholder relationships.

“If you have a manufacturing facility or an office, some presence in the state, that gives you a bit of a foothold, a leg up, to go make a case,” Cantrell told Quorum. If you don’t have anything in a state except you sell stuff into the state which isn’t very distinguishing, to have someone that can be your go-to person in case something comes up in the state has been a real helpful approach for me.”

While she may not need to leverage those relationships right away, Cantrell refers to this relationship building like “deposits in the bank” in case she needs to draw on them later.

Have a Group That Knows Legislation Inside and Out

In order to properly analyze the impact a piece of legislation has on Philips, Cantrell works with trade associations to dive into the specifics of legislation.

“We lean on a number of trade associations, industry groups that may be more closely following the technical aspects of a bill,” Cantrell told Quorum.

For example, Cantrell sought out the knowledge of trade associations when several states took action to create recycling programs for mercury-containing compact fluorescent lightbulbs. As this was a policy that had an impact not just on Philips ability to expand their market, but the lighting industry as a whole, the trade association provided a source of knowledge and unified voice for Cantrell to work with.

“Mainly [policy issues] are industry wide issues of typically there’s not something that just impacts Philips,” Cantrell said. “[It] makes my job easier because there are other people that are in a coalition or in a trade group that would be helping to work that.

Build Relationships with Elected Officials; They Could Be Potential Customers

At the local level, Philips has a major stake in government procurement of lighting needs. Since the local government affairs operation was started in 2009, Cantrell has worked to engage local officials to get in the door for business development.

One way she does this is through the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“We’ve been very active there for the last five plus years so we’re a known entity, our brand is known there, and we can make lots of contacts,” Cantrell said. “Part of my job is to help the sales team in the follow up with that.”

While mayors are likely not the ones deciding where to procure its lighting needs, by creating relationships with executives, Cantrell can make asks of mayors to connect her with the parking authority or the department of transportation who may be a decision maker for lighting purchases.

“We devise a strategy, does it make sense to have a meeting with the mayor, probably not, but what we would do is seek the mayor’s help in identifying who is the best person for us to go talk to,” Cantrell told Quorum.

Bottom Line

Jean Cantrell is unique in the many hats she wears and the responsibilities she encompasses within the Philips Lighting operation, but the lessons she learned from her experiences are universal. With limited time and resources, building relationships with stakeholders, trade associations, industry coalitions, and elected officials can always benefit a team’s bottom line.

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