Every government relations team is called upon to show its value internally at some point. Yet an ROI discussion with top leadership can be tough. In some organizations, it can feel like you’re speaking another language.
Government relations teams don’t always calibrate their worth in revenue, sales, membership and the other standard measures used by companies and associations. Yet policy victories are still crucial to success in most organizations.
“We struggled like everybody else over the years with how you quantify this,” said John Hay, senior vice president for government relations at CRH, at Quorum/Capitol Canary’s webinar, How to Quantify the ROI of Government Affairs. “What metrics do you use? How do you justify your budget? We struggle with it, too.”
But unlike many organizations, the CRH team actively works to improve how they communicate ROI to their leaders and co-workers, and they have struck upon a formula that shows value to the company in concrete ways. By clearly linking their work to company business, involving hundreds of employees directly in their GR strategy, and creating an annual Impact Report to explain their efforts, the team has made huge strides to show ROI in a language executives can understand.
It’s a model that will work in other companies, associations and nonprofits that need help showing ROI.
“You’ll see that [we use the] word ‘impact,’” Hay said. “We didn’t draw that out of thin air. We talk about how to educate, impact and engage. You’ll see that throughout what we’re doing.”
Connect Government Relations to Business
CRH manufactures construction materials and building products globally, including asphalt pavement, concrete cement, concrete block and many other items. About half their business is in the U.S., where they operate through local brand names and companies in 47 states. They have about 40,000 employees in North America.
“If you go to a Lowe’s or Home Depot, go out back and find the concrete block or the bagged stone, those are our products,” Hay said.
The company is extremely interested in promoting public infrastructure projects, which increase business. They are active on the infrastructure bill before Congress right now, which could devote as much as $3.5 trillion to projects of all kinds. They are also active on state and local initiatives.
When the CRH government relations team helps win funding, it can often draw a direct line to company revenue. They can even project roughly how much revenue is likely in different situations. The GR team highlights that connection at every opportunity.
As an example, Hay talks about the 10-cent gas tax passed in Alabama in 2019, which reportedly will raise about $320 million a year for projects when fully implemented. “We’re going to get our share of that,” Hay said. “We know roughly what that’s going to be and we can project into the future, showing a positive increase in our business.”
Connecting government affairs to business goals is a strategy other experts endorse as well. Jace Johnson, vice president of global government relations at Adobe, made the point in the white paper How to Increase Your GR Budget.
“Government Affairs professionals usually come to budget meetings wearing their government hats and not their business hats,” he said. “They talk about policy and expect everyone else in the room to regard policy as important. If they talk about the company at all, it’s usually around vaguely worded risks from regulations. They almost never get specific. They almost never tie the policy goals back to the company goals.”
As he put it, “If all you’re talking about is policy, you’re not going to carry the day,”
Document Your Impact
Many organizations find it hard to quantify the impact of their program. On the webinar, more than one third of attendees (35%) said in a survey that they were not very effective. Almost one in five (18%) checked a box saying “we need help.”
After experimenting with weekly, monthly and quarterly models, the CRH government relations team now creates an annual impact report that shows their success. It’s a model that is out of step with many government affairs teams, half of which (55%) report weekly or monthly, according to the survey. Only 13% said they report annually.
But it has major advantages. It puts all of their best work in one place, including federal, state, local, grassroots, fly-ins, federal and state PACs, special projects and more. It also does not add deadlines throughout the year or get in the way of important GR work.
“Frankly, we have talked for years about how you quantify this,” Hay said. “How do you share what we’re doing with the people we want to influence within our company to participate in the process?”
But he said there was no “a-ha!” moment. Nick Blanchette, communications and marketing strategies manager at CRH, said that the successes they announced throughout the year naturally fit into an end-of-year document that was more comprehensive.
“You know how fast the political cycle moves,” he said. “We’d have one victory, then another one, and we had things get lost in the cycle. So we wanted to put together a standing document that we could reflect on, and ultimately use as a sales tool for our internal team.”
The report is accessible and uses language CRH employees can relate to. For example, the team names their advocacy efforts after college sports teams, such as Project Razorback or Project Bulldog. The report now goes to more than 10,000 CRH personnel.
Engage Employees All Year
Indeed, engaging the CRH workforce is something the government relations team does well. “We leverage a large number of our employees across our company,” Hay said.
Though the team is only four people, they have a “cabinet” of more than 100 executives, managers and others company-wide who are interested in policy and politics and willing to get involved. The team regularly assembles them on a conference call.
Part of the mission is to involve employees in advocacy and amplify their voices. For example, during the pandemic quarantine, the CRH team was quick to adopt virtual conferencing, using employees to communicate with lawmakers. They connected roughly 1,500 employees directly with public officials through about 120 Zoom calls last year.
“We had it set up so that it was our employees—their constituents—who were asking the questions,” Hay said. “It wasn’t the GR team. Once we kicked it over to our employees, the local plant manager might describe his business and talk about our presence in the district.”
At a fly-in just before the pandemic struck last year, Hay’s team brought 35 company leaders—all of them women—to Washington to meet with members of Congress. The Women’s Impact Conference, as they called it, coincided with Women in Construction Week and the group divided up and met with 45 representatives, senators and chiefs of staff.
“We’re not the most diverse industry,” Hay said, “and we’re trying hard to change that.”
Of course, the fly-in and the Zoom calls were featured prominently in this year’s Impact Report.