Government Relations and Public Relations a Team Effort
As our hometown Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles recently proved (yeah, we’re still celebrating!) to be successful, a football team needs a great offense. That means a dependable line as well as a talented backfield. And while it’s the backs that tend to get most of the glory, they can’t do it on their own.
The linemen are responsible for the nitty-gritty. They do their job in the trenches – mostly out of sight from the casual observer, blocking would-be tacklers, protecting the quarterback, opening lanes for the speedy running backs and talented receivers.
Running Backs and Linemen
A successful public affairs campaign often works much the same way. The Public Relations pros are like the running backs – running with the broader story, alerting the public to the importance of the public policy being promoted, showcasing activities and events in ways that seek to create wider public awareness and broader public support.
Their Government Relations teammates, meanwhile, do the nitty-gritty – working within the power structure, targeting the appropriate legislators, governors, staff members or other public officials to make sure the public policy initiative is moving in the right direction, fending off the opposition, opening lanes for negotiation and agreement.
When they work together in a well-coordinated team effort, magnificent things can happen.
Case in Point
As part of a recent webinar sponsored by the New England Society of Healthcare Communications (NESHCO), presenters from Care New England discussed their efforts to promote statewide legislation in Rhode Island mandating fertility preservation coverage for women undergoing cancer treatments (such as sterilizing surgery, chemotherapy or radiation) that could render them infertile.
Early on, Government Relations and Public Relations team members understood the need to work collaboratively. This was important, because, as noted, their focus can sometimes be at cross purposes.
The process began with internal meetings with clinicians, cancer specialists, lawyers, and Government Relations and Public Relations team members. The purpose: to ensure everyone on the planning team understood the issues involved so they could set a strategic direction for moving forward.
Working Inside / Outside
From there, Government Relations worked with their lobbyists and legislative staff to draft proposed legislation to provide protection to women undergoing cancer treatments. At the same time, the team worked on identifying and educating potential sponsors in both the House and Senate, and to garner support from the leadership of both chambers.
In the months ahead, the Government Relations team worked to identify and evaluate potential witnesses (doctors and patients) to appear at legislative committee hearings as well as be available for supporting media opportunities. The team also helped draft testimony and kept in close communication with legislators to alleviate any concerns that might arise as a result of the hearings and provide regular updates to key internal stakeholders.
Meanwhile, PR worked to get the message out to the general public, in order to start building popular support for measures designed to protect the health and lives of women facing such daunting challenges. Various allies, including the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), assisted and provided an official statement in support of the legislation that was included in a news release. That kind of support helped spread the love by encouraging others to raise their voices as well. News stories subsequently appeared in key publications including The Providence Business Journal, Providence Business News, HealthLeaders Media, US News and Beckers Hospital Review. In addition, clinicians from Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island provided a supporting op-ed that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.
On July 5, 2017, Rhode Island became the first state in the nation to require insurance coverage of fertility preservation prior to radiation or chemotherapy treatment that could result in infertility.
At SPRYTE, members of our team have been involved in similar efforts over the years, including an effort in Pennsylvania to eliminate the use of certain chemicals in children’s products. The experience was very similar – working a two-pronged approach, one aimed at legislators and regulatory officials, the other focusing on building awareness in the media and among the public about the chemicals in question.
Our experience mirrored what took place in Rhode Island: working with legislative staff and sponsors, identifying and vetting expert witnesses, and updates about new scientific studies supporting the claims that children were at risk. Our story ended somewhat differently; after several legislative hearings, industry representatives agreed to stop using the chemicals in childrens’ products.
Nevertheless, the lessons remain the same. Government Relations and Public Relations professionals each bring different, but often complementary, skill sets to the table. To work together, they need to plan together, establish mutual goals, and map out a clear strategy that allows each team to do what they do best without getting in each other’s way.
From a public policy standpoint, the results can be game-changing.