Recently, I attended the Public Affairs Council Grassroots Conference where I picked up a few easy to share tidbits. One of those came from William C. Lane, Caterpillar Inc.’s director of government relations. In recounting Caterpillar’s success in advocating passage of three free trade agreements, he noted there are six tools he considers crucial to changing policy. They are:
- Grassroots: Seemingly obvious, but Caterpillar dug deep to involve their employees by recruiting someone in each plant whom the employees would trust and respect.
- Leaders: Not only was the CEO out in front, but there were also leaders in different parts of the company who had the ear of key groups who needed to be coordinated for a successful internal education campaign.
- Think Tanks: Caterpillar made stronger arguments with Members of Congress by having district-by-district data from friendly information sources, which he said was invaluable in convincing undecided votes.
- PACs: Obviously money is a valuable tool to help with advertising and other methods of educating the public.
- Press: By being part of the story and engaging local editorial boards, Caterpillar got their message out to all stakeholders who needed to be educated. Lane noted that this involved some risk, but “we have to accept risk.”
- Public Affairs Professionals: “Talking points don’t stop when the campaign ends,” said Lane. And if you lose you need to “re-petition with a fresh spin” to be successful. To stay sharp he noted you need to “provide ongoing learning opportunities” for your public affairs staff.
For me, I think the most valuable take-away was that you have to personalize the issue for your members before they can personalize it to a Member of Congress. Caterpillar worked hard to educate their employees about the key points well in advance of the call to action so that they didn’t need to provide the talking points for the messages. This helped ensure employees would convey the key message in their own words adding an authenticity to their contact. Authenticity breeds trust. Trust builds relationships. And relationships can generate change.