“From a regional perspective, central government in Wellington can seem like a world away,” says HMC Communications senior strategic advisor Peta Goldsworthy, “Many companies and not-for-profit organisations know they should engage with elected representatives on a regular basis, but they don’t know how to get their foot in the door.”
That was the topic of a recent CRUNCH series in Hamilton, which discussed how business leaders can effectively communicate with New Zealand’s leaders and ‘woo Wellington’.
The lunchtime panel discussion featured director of HSB Government Relations Holly Bennett; former senior communications advisor for the Department of Internal Affairs Sarah-Lee Crellin; and HMC Communications senior strategic advisor Peta Goldsworthy.
“The need to build relationships with politicians is imperative,” but business owners often don’t know where to start. She saw lots of potential for Waikato businesses, especially those in the small-to-medium and start-up area, to better engage with central government,” comments Bennett.
She says that local members of parliament are a good start for communication, and can help to inject government relations into any business.
“It is a myth you need to be in Wellington to connect with government,” she says.
However, she says that one of her pet peeves is that people think they can use politicians as pawns.
“They are human beings first and foremost. There is a misconception out there that government relations is something that happens in the back alleys or dark corridors of power,” she says.
“For me it’s all about creating long-term, robust and meaningful relationships.”
Sarah-Lee Crellin spent seven years working in government agencies and says that Wellington and the Waikato have very different ways of doing things.
“There is something I call the ‘Waikato’ way and the ‘Welly’ way, and understanding the difference can help,” Crellin explains.
“Waikato has grown up and is full of passionate and exciting people, but sometimes there is a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude and businesses are humble. In Wellington we want a lot of quality detail to make decisions, plus if something is great we shout about it from the rooftops.”
She says that even the working week can be vastly different across Wellington and the regions.
“Fridays are not good days to contact people as everyone is trying to get caught up on what’s happened during the week. Monday is a planning day with meetings. So it’s mid-week when you should make contact.”
Crellin advises people to understand what’s happening in politics and the news.
“Take a step back and think why it would be important to a Minister or government department? Is it a hot topic or something being talked about in the house? You are more likely to get cut through if it’s a hot topic at the time.”
Bennett adds that businesses should also look at publicly accessible information to find out what is happening in Parliament.