When your company joins a trade association, you assume its lobbyists will advocate for your best interests on the Hill and in state capitals. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Don’t pin all your legislative and regulatory hopes on the trade association. Its mission is to look out for the industry’s best interests, which may diverge from your company’s.
The best way to ensure your interests are considered by legislators and regulators is to have your own government affairs team, strategy, and software. However, there is absolutely a time and a place for association membership, particularly in coalition advocacy. The voices of many organizations coming together in agreement on an issue can have a powerful impact on creating change. But since that isn’t always the case, we recommend having a dual-threat approach, combining an in-house lobbying strategy with an association strategy.
Lobbying challenges are inherent in the association membership model. Here’s why.
A trade association is governed by leaders who serve on its board and committees. These members determine the association’s government affairs policies. But this governance model is showing signs of distress.
1. Divergent member interests
Board and committee members don’t always agree. It’s nearly impossible to get them all to agree with large and small companies with different operating models and business goals. You end up with members at odds with each other. But the association has to take a stance that represents a compromise or consensus view—a view you may disagree with.
Or, when a contentious issue arises, your association takes no stance at all, but that strategy doesn’t always end well. In December 2021, the Internet Association closed its doors for good after years of staying out of antitrust battles because its small and large members couldn’t agree. Pleasing no one, they lost everyone.
2. Slow decision-making process
Associations aren’t known for making quick decisions because they’re held back by their consensus-driven governance model. Does yours make decisions quickly enough to get ahead of troubling legislation or regulations? Or do you have to wait for subcommittees, committees, and the board to agree on a strategy? Instead of taking action, time ticks away as members and staff go back and forth, wordsmithing a response.
The weakness of the traditional governance model was displayed during the pandemic. Many associations were slow to pivot to virtual or find new revenue streams. That same lack of foresight and agility is often at play as new market developments and needs emerge. Association staff and volunteer leaders don’t always recognize new challenges or opportunities for the industry. Some do, but many don’t. As your business evolves, your association must too.
Why you’re better off with your own government affairs strategy, team, and software
Your company must be prepared to act independently and advocate for public policies that support your business goals. If you find yourself on the wrong side of an issue at your association, you don’t want to build your Capitol Hill reputation and relationships from scratch.
Cultivate relationships with policymakers
Prioritize building relationships with legislative and regulatory officials in the districts where you have offices, facilities, and employees and with committee members who deal with issues that concern your business.
Quorum helps you manage these relationships by giving you the tools to track your meetings with members of Congress, staffers, and other stakeholders and recording the takeaways from those discussions. When staffers move to new roles and offices, as they often do, Quorum keeps their contact information updated for you. You can store information about their previous positions on issues and media mentions of your company’s impact in their districts, providing easy talking points to your executives before they walk into a meeting.
Bring a personal touch to politics
Trade associations talk about the industry, not your company. It’s up to you to personalize your company’s issues for policymakers in a way associations can’t. Humanize your corporate story by discussing the potential impact of legislation and regulations on your company and, more importantly, its employees, suppliers, and customers.
Remind legislators of the good your company does in their districts by arranging site visits to your facilities so they can see their constituents in action. With Quorum’s Outbox, you can send personal invitations to multiple staffers at once or send them personalized background information on an emerging issue.
Legislative success requires continual relationship management. Quorum’s analytical tools allow you to visualize your strongest relationships, identify weak points, and determine where a more personal touch would help.
Track the issues affecting your company’s bottom line
Quorum helps your government affairs team become as legislatively omniscient as possible by allowing you to:
- Stay on top of policies and issues that matter to your business and customers
- Track legislation and regulations
- Follow legislator dialogue on social media alongside their formal legislative activity
- View city/county agendas and minutes to track local policy changes
You don’t want to wait for your association to relay this information to you. Associations won’t or can’t always dedicate resources to the issues you think are essential or prioritize issues the same way you would. If you don’t hear about an issue until your association sends its weekly government affairs newsletter, it might be too late by then to talk with stakeholders and get in front of the situation.
Quorum’s dialogue tracking serves as an early warning system when your company or a key issue is discussed on the Hill, in state capitals, and in local jurisdictions. Receive customized alerts when your business is mentioned in legislator press releases, newsletters, floor statements, and social media posts to stay up to date at a pace that fits your workflow.
Respond rapidly to emerging situations
During a company or industry crisis, you want to be one of the first to contact legislators about the problem. You don’t want to rely on your association to rescue you or tell your side of the story. You must have the relationships, information, and tools in place to quickly communicate your message, especially when the target is on your company’s back.
Even though your association might share policymaker names and emails, you won’t receive any background information, conversational history, and issue stances like you would with your team’s strategy in a system like Quorum. However, when time is of the essence, you can rely on Quorum’s accurate and up-to-date database to help you find the right people.
Because your employees are voters whose livelihoods are affected by legislation and regulations, they are the best people to talk with policymakers. You can describe an issue and its impact in language they understand and inspire them to act better than any trade association could. By sending alerts from a corporate advocacy team rather than an association, you can make sure calls to action are coming from a recognizable name and are personalized to their role or department.
Toyota’s government affairs team uses their Quorum grassroots action center to educate their employees about the issues affecting their company and explain how they can make an impact. Toyota gamified the advocacy experience so that each time an employee takes action, they earn points that can add up to prizes.
Showcase your GA team’s contributions to the company
You can prove the ROI of in-house lobbying with Quorum reports and dashboards highlighting your legislative and regulatory wins. Demonstrate to the C-suite and the rest of your organization the value and impact your team has overall, by district, and across all business lines.