4 Ways to Build Relationships with Local Lawmakers

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4 Ways to Build Relationships with Local Lawmakers
By: Bob Likins, Director of Government Affairs

Most people have an extremely low opinion of telemarketers.  Someone you’ve never met calls you (or worse yet shows up at your door) asking for your time or money and expects you to empathize with them.  Elected officials find themselves in this situation constantly.  People they know nothing about show up in their office asking them to support or oppose legislation based on the information they present during a single meeting, then disappear when the issue is settled.  These same legislators have undoubtedly been visited by the folks on the opposite side of the issue as well, leaving them having to decide whose “facts” they believe.  This results in a 50/50 chance of success at best and, in the case of the animal rights groups, they are extremely effective at making an emotional argument that may well win the day.

The solution to this dilemma is simple; don’t be a stranger showing up at their office.  If you have built a relationship with your legislators before an issue that threatens you arises you have a much better chance of being successful.  Mike Isaac of Petland Naperville has seen very positive returns as a result of his engagement with his local lawmakers.  Despite the fact that he never dreamed that owning a pet store would involve meeting with politicians, Mike has mastered the skill.  His store enjoys a very favorable reputation amongst local lawmakers despite the fact that neither Chicago, nor Illinois generally, are particularly friendly places for the pet trade.  In fact, he has even been active in forming and engaging on behalf of statewide retail groups in Illinois and New Jersey that have been effective in curbing anti store regulations.

There are a few simple things that you can do to build a relationship with your local lawmakers:

  1. Pay them a visit – Introduce yourself and your business before there’s a crisis.  Mike Bober recently published an excellent article on preparing for a meeting with government officials and the PIJAC staff is always ready to help you prepare for a meeting.
  2. Invite them to your facility – Let them know that there are a lot of misperceptions about how the pet trade operates, and invite them to get a firsthand look at reality.  Offer to let them bring a subject matter expert such as the local government veterinarian or animal control director.  Whether they take you up on having an expert attend or not, the invitation demonstrates that you are being transparent and helpful.
  3. Contribute to a campaign – a small investment of time or money can pay huge dividends when threatening legislation arises.  Don’t just mail in a check.  During the campaign season candidates are extremely attuned to who is helping them.  Attend a fund raiser and introduce yourself.  These cost very little at the local or state level and can ingratiate you with the candidate.  Ask them for their positions and offer to meet with them later to educate them on the issues.  Don’t try to convince them at a fundraising function where they are focused on working the room.
  4. Donate your (or your staff’s) time – Campaigns always need manpower.  Whether it’s answering phones or handing out flyers more hands are always needed.  In Oceanside California a retail sales ban was narrowly defeated.  During the next election an animal rights organization volunteered heavily for the challenger to one of the “no” votes.  When the challenger won he thanked the group and expressed his support for their cause in his first interview.  There is now a retail sales ban in Oceanside.  If you can’t afford the time to volunteer then offer to take on some administrative duties for the campaign such as record keeping.  Candidates have long memories for those who helped them into office.

However you decide you are most comfortable with engaging your local government, find a way to do it.  When an animal rights activist approaches them to support anti-pet legislation they should picture you and your store as the face of the industry.  Get out there, make the connections, and always remember that PIJAC is here to support your efforts.

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