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How do you sell your project to government?

Government Relations Director Richard Harris looks at how to talk up a new business project to a busy government audience.

New business projects have long been the lifeblood of the WA economy.

But getting community and government support for these projects is becoming more difficult as members of the public and special interest groups become more active and sophisticated in their use of communications tools in opposing developments.

More than ever, it is critical for project developers to view stakeholder communications at the core of their activities rather than as a “nice to have” add on. And the evidence is that good communications from the outset not only enhances a project’s chances of gaining regulatory approvals but also makes for a more sustainable project. In a very real sense this is about getting a “social licence” to operate.

So what makes a good communication strategy?

For a start, communications should never be just one way. Listening to the community and government is just as important as communicating the benefits of your project.

But taking one step back, it is critical to understand who your stakeholders are. This is an important exercise because developing a list of stakeholders brings into focus the points of influence in relation to the project. Identifying your stakeholders forms part of the initial communications scoping exercise that should be done right at the very beginning of any project development.

Each group, and sometimes individuals may need to be treated differently – this makes sense, as their interests are widely different. What is important to the local business or resident is not necessarily what is important to the local conservationist or to the regulator.
The media too is a key stakeholder. WA has a well-established and professional regional media network across, radio, TV, print and digital and these outlets should be an integral part of any communications strategy. Being accessible to tell your story and respond to media inquiries is important because often the story will get written with or without your input, so better to have your say.

Increasingly communications is about social media. The immediacy and accessibility of the technology make social media a major communications tool for both those opposing projects and those in support. We covered this aspect in a previous Purple Patch – well worth reading again.

The government is both a regulator empowered to approve projects (or not) and at the same time a representative of community opinion. Understanding the different levels and agencies of government and their responsibilities, and how they can impact on your project should be part of the initial scoping exercise at the beginning of your project.

The local MP (or MPs – often more than one) is a key to gaining support within government. It doesn’t matter too much whether the local MP is a member of the government or opposition, as in the longer term these positions may change, and the aim should always be to try and achieve bipartisan support.
The increasing complexity of stakeholder relations means that project developers should engage professional communications consultants to advise them and be an integral part of the project team – from the very outset of a project. Cannings Purple’s stakeholder engagement and government relations team is second to none with years of experience in guiding projects through all the communications challenges – come and see us to talk about your project.

Richard Harris is the chairperson of the WA Independent Power Association, spokesperson for DomGas Alliance and Special Counsel at Cannings Purple, specialising in energy and resources and government relations. Contact Richard.