Mike Bober and Murphy
The old adage is wrong; you can fight City Hall—and the state legislature and even Congress. But you need to start the fight as early as possible, and you shouldn’t try to do it on your own. When you want something done—or not done—by elected officials, a coalition of allied voices can spell the difference between success and failure.
In an industry as large as ours, there are countless coalitions just waiting to be formed. Breeders, manufacturers and distributors can all find common ground on transportation restrictions. Large and small retailers can come together to address local tax issues. And everyone, up to and including pet owners, can help convince Congress to allow pets to travel on Amtrak.
The best coalitions bring together individuals and groups who represent a broad range of perspectives and motivation. In this way, they are able to reach a wider audience, both within government and in the general public. Each participant draws on his or her own strengths to provide the necessary combination of manpower, message and money that powers a successful campaign.
Coalitions can be formed around every aspect of government, from political campaigns to specific pieces of legislation to broader policy goals. One year, I worked with a particularly strategic Congressional campaign in coal country. They knew that they couldn’t win on pure partisan politics, so they set about creating a coalition of union workers worried about their industry, middle-class families opposed to tax increases and religious communities motivated by their values. Even though the campaign started out with little chance of winning, creating and engaging this diverse coalition of supporters proved successful. On Election Day, this campaign won by less than one percent of the votes cast.
Another example of the value of strong coalitions can be found when examining tax credits. Since 1981, companies that engage in research and experimentation in science and technology have enjoyed a tax credit for their efforts. To advocate for their continuation, the R&D Credit Coalition was formed by dozens of trade associations and corporations. While these tax credits were originally slated to expire in 1985, they have been regularly extended due to the ongoing efforts of the R&D Credit Coalition.
Many individuals and organizations that have been affected by legislation share the belief that governmental regulation often has overreaching and unintended consequences. They, in turn, oppose new regulations that would impose additional burdens and support efforts to limit the effects of existing regulation by communicating with their audiences and signing onto policy letters. Even without a formal structure or regular meetings, this “Leave Us Alone” coalition plays a role in shaping legislation at the state and federal levels.
Building winning coalitions is as easy as remembering the old Sesame Street song: Who are the People in Your Neighborhood? Think about all of the people who are likely to be impacted by the legislation in question. Then find organizations that have formed around related issues, and reach out to them. Educate them on the situation, if necessary, and invite them to work together. You may find they’re already engaged, in which case you can discuss the benefits of joining forces or working separately. In either case, regular communication is key.
Like a pet, a coalition requires care and exercise to keep it healthy and happy. Simply identifying allies and calling yourselves a coalition is not going to give you the results you’re looking for. Organize opportunities for coalition partners to meet and exchange ideas. Recruit volunteers to raise awareness of issues using social media and by writing letters to the editor in local publications. And make sure everyone involved is communicating to their entire contact list when town halls and public hearings take place to ensure your side has a critical mass of supporters on hand.
Last month, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council announced the new state coordinator initiative, an effort to more quickly and directly engage our thousands of allies across the country when bad legislation threatens our livelihood, or when good legislation needs support. With state coordinators in place, we will be able to participate in—and create, when necessary—coalitions that demonstrate just how many of our elected officials’ constituents are impacted and motivated to weigh in. That’s something most lawmakers take very seriously.
Mike Bober is vice president of government affairs for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. For more information on coalition building—or to help PIJAC build coalitions where you live and work—contact Bober at firstname.lastname@example.org.