Third-party relationships are sending a stronger message

PhRMA, the trade group that represents the pharmaceutical industry, has long used partnerships with third-party groups to reach a broader audience and enhance credibility.

PhRMA, the trade group that represents the pharmaceutical industry, has long used partnerships with third-party groups to reach a broader audience and enhance credibility.

But in April, the association announced an unlikely alliance with Families USA, a progressive organization that represents consumers. The group focuses on three healthcare-reform-related issues and provides PhRMA access to a very different constituency at a key time in the debate.

“Our partnerships help expand our reach across the country in trying to raise awareness about why healthcare reform is so important to Americans,” says Ken Johnson, SVP of communications and public affairs for PhRMA. “It's not the number of partners we're working with that's different this year. It's the diversity of the partners.”

Greater prevalence
With trust in business at a low this year and the volume of policy issues at a high, partnerships with third-party organizations have become a larger part of successful public affairs programs.

“There has been a dramatic increase in the role of third parties and partnerships in public affairs,” notes Lane Bailey, president of GolinHarris Public Affairs. “As health policy has developed in Washington, in general, third-party validators have become more of a rule than the exception.”

“There's been a lot of damage to the influence of the corporate brand,” adds Jim Cox, SVP for Hill & Knowlton. “If you're going to be credible, I think there is always a need to have other voices that are there with you. That's where I think the partnerships and alliances are just absolutely central.”

PhRMA is also participating in Americans for Stable Quality Care (ASQC), a coalition that includes Families USA, the Service Employees International Union, the American Medical Association, and the Federation of American Hospitals.

“If this coalition was just PhRMA and the Chamber of Commerce, there would be a lot of people in America that would be tone deaf to the message,” says Johnson. “Families USA has a very vibrant, loyal constituency. PhRMA, we have a broad reach into the healthcare community.”

In debates that are as cluttered as healthcare reform or climate change, a clear message supported by a partnership can separate an organization.

“On those types of battles, a single voice is very hard to be heard,” says Bailey. “If you can't form coalitions and put together third-party organizations to support something, you're just not going to get very far.”

Golin worked with the National Insulation Association to develop a partnership with the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers in June. The goal is to seek federal funding and tax incentives that would benefit the companies and workers in the mechanical insulation industry.

“Both have interests that are aligned,” says Bailey. “But it's a door opener. It causes people to look differently at an issue than they might otherwise.”

Making a stronger case
Unions such as these have taken on a greater role in Washington, says Bailey, since new lobbying rules have gone into effect.

“If you can put together that kind of partnership, you're more likely to be heard in an environment where one-off lobbying is looked down on,” he adds. “But if you have this partnership, it makes your case stronger to Congress and the administration.”

It will also make a case stronger to citizens, many of whom might be limiting the communications channels they use as people personalize the information they get online, says Don Hannaford, SVP of public affairs for Levick Strategic Communications.

“People don't want overload, so they narrow the information they get to what they're really interested in,” he adds. “Even if a member of that organization is not intrinsically interested in your issue, because they're interested in getting something from that organization, it provides you access to a vastly expanded and active constituency.”

Other recent alliances

SEIU/Wal-Mart
Leaders of both entities issued a joint statement in June in support of the Obama administration's healthcare reform efforts, including an employer-mandated health plan

Building Energy Efficient Codes Network
The new alliance, whose various members include utilities and labor groups, unveiled an ad campaign in June to advocate for nationwide building-code improvements

American Natural Gas Alliance
Including Devon Energy and Newfield Exploration, the group was created in early 2009 to differentiate the natural gas industry from the oil industry and unify the sector's voice in the Beltway

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