DC: Get in the game or get out of the way

As much as most companies would like to simply ignore politics, sooner or later, everyone has a Washington issue.

As much as most companies would like to simply ignore politics, sooner or later, everyone has a Washington issue.

The past year has been a sobering reminder of how quickly tides can turn. Everyone's familiar with the litany of new government interventions in the marketplace, and the new levels of scrutiny that come with it. It's gotten to the point that Washington news site Politico – famed for its coverage of political minutiae – now publishes a morning business report called Morning Money “on the intersection of Washington and Wall St.”

Companies once used to keeping Washington concerns on the back burner, or confined to their trade association, now have to realize that getting and staying engaged with lawmakers, interest groups, and others who influence the Washington debate is as much a part of doing business as communicating with shareholders and customers.

Second, they have to understand that when you step off the business page and into the front section, the world is a different place. Consider, for example, that a recent Financial Times/Harris Poll found that 87% of Americans believe companies should place securing the job positions of its employees above increasing their profitability. Politicians follow that same logic – the bottom line business issue for them is how many people you employ in their districts, not what profits you return to your shareholders. Framing your arguments in the terms they care about is critical to staying out of trouble.

But a solid Washington strategy extends beyond the Beltway. Members of Congress want good relationships with significant employers in their districts and will be at least as responsive to messages from your employees as they will be to any other communication.

Ultimately, making the effort to engage Washington on an ongoing basis is an investment in protecting your reputation and potentially your license to operate.

Steve Lipin, senior partner, Brunswick Group

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