Building Relationships With Elected Officials Is Good Business

Mismanaging things that materially impact your business—but that you think you can’t do much about—can trip up or take down your business. Things like taxes or new regulations you’re forced to act on…or postal rates, regulations, or restrictions.

So, is there a way to influence these seemingly immovable objects that control your business—and, potentially, your marketing? It actually is possible, but it must be done both collectively and individually. Also, like everything else you do, it needs to be approached methodically and in a concerted manner.

I was once the CEO of a small company that had a tax liability worth 45% of company revenues unfairly levied on it. Since we were already carrying a large debt load, we were effectively defunct. We argued with the IRS and got nowhere. We consulted experts of all types, but no one could help. So I turned to my U.S. Senator.

Had I not previously built a relationship with him, our small company would have been toast. He said that provided we’d done nothing wrong, and hadn’t personally benefited from the offending transaction that had triggered the massive tax liability, he’d try to make it right. Long story short: After completing his due diligence and determining we were an innocent victim, this senator wrote one sentence into a piece of moving legislation and this pesky tax overhang disappeared. Problem solved forever. Such is the power of those who make the rules in Washington.

If you run or own a business, you cannot afford to be indifferent to those who ultimately control your destiny. It has nothing to do with your political beliefs or your support (or lack thereof) for Congress and its actions. It’s solely about your company’s best interests.

It’s important that your relationships with members of Congress are built in advance of need. It’s easier to do than you think, relatively efficient, and low cost compared with its impact. Consider the following:

ONE

Just who are the members of Congress to get to know? Here’s a hypothetical example:

> Your business is based in Kansas City, MO.

> You (likely) have many employees who live across the state border in Overland Park, KS.

> Your fulfillment center is in Shawnee, KS.

> Therefore, at a minimum, you’ll want to reach out to the Congressional representatives who serve all three areas. And, of course, you’ll want to reach out to Senators from Missouri and Kansas.

> If you grow and add other locations, you’ll need to establish some connections there also.

TWO

How to make contact:

> All members of Congress’s phone numbers (home state and D.C. offices) are easily accessible online.

> Request to speak with the scheduler to invite the Congressperson to come to your facilities for a tour.

> Although all members of Congress have busy schedules, they also have recesses when they return to their home states. They often welcome these kinds of meetings with constituents.

> If not feasible, at the very least see if you can set up a phone call with the member directly.

THREE

What do I say to the Congressperson?

> Tell him about your business and the jobs you represent.

> Focus primarily on any outside factors (e.g., postal matters, tax rates, regulations) that directly impact your business.

> Tie in as many of these factors as you can to your employment levels: If you’ve ever had job growth or layoffs, were they tied to changes in a law, postage rates, tax matters, etc.?

> Remind him how easily the decisions he makes could impact your company’s employment levels.

> Condition your support on pro-jobs legislation and let him know that you communicate his votes to your employees and local suppliers.

FOUR

What’s this all worth?

> Whether you can set up a site visit or just have a productive phone conversation, you’ve laid the groundwork for your relationship.

> Support your officials with money and votes; even consider volunteering for an election campaign.

> Build a continuing relationship so the door is open going forward. While the Congressperson may not always act in your favor, you’ll at least be able to get him to take your concerns into consideration when writing or voting on future legislation.

As the catalog industry’s advocacy group, ACMA routinely shows its members how to build these relationships. If you’re sophisticated and active in representing your business’ needs before political decision makers, you’ll worry less knowing that your interests are protected.

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