How to speak your government’s language

If you’re reliant on government funding, getting your local politicians on board with your strategies is essential. As places re-evaluate their budgets following the pandemic, how can you ensure that you’re speaking your government’s language? We asked past and future speakers to share how they achieved success in getting their local councils and governments to engage with their strategy.

Be prepared to argue your case with both personal stories and hard data.

To grossly over-simplify, there are two types of people. Those who are swayed by clear metrics, and those who are swayed by emotional narratives. That’s not to say there aren’t people who respond to both, but most of us have a leaning one way or another.

Fiona de Jong, Head of Australia’s Nation Brand, told us that it was key to “ask questions about their favourite place to visit, send their child to study or invest, and why?” Places, by nature, are emotive. Everyone will have a favourite childhood haunt or a fond memory of a place, so draw on those positive associations to help them engage with your own messaging.

But similarly, Caroline Beteta, the President & CEO at Visit California, spoke about the importance of providing clear data to demonstrate their argument. “If they question the value of marketing,” she told us, “we can provide case studies of destinations that stopped marketing and saw an immediate decline in visitation, jobs, and taxes.”

Don’t look for the key decision maker.

Government decisions aren’t made by a single person. They’re made by committee, by a diffusion of agreement throughout the organisation. It’s therefore important to ensure you’re reaching out to all the relevant people and – following on from our last point – that you understand what the best approach is to target that particular individual.

“We send customised research to each legislator in California that describes how much visitors spend in their district, how many jobs that creates, and how much tax revenue the spending generates to pay for basic local services, such as schools and law enforcement,” explained Caroline.

But if you are trying to target the most senior decision makers, you need to match the seniority from your own organisation. Your Mayor is more likely to listen to your argument if it’s coming from your CEO.

Consistency is king.

Costa Rica’s country brand success has been built on the firm collaboration between five core stakeholders. As Daniel Valverde, Country Brand Manager for Essential Costa Rica, shared with us, “this collaboration has enabled an alignment of key messages based on what the country seeks to present internationally, thus the consistency of the discourse is maintained even when faced with changes among these internal [government] stakeholders.”

This approach has allowed Costa Rica’s brand to endure three different governments, and the continued consistency of their messaging is winning support. “The key to the country brand’s ability to adapt to government changes, without losing our long-term vision, has been to include work plans and measurable tactics, with clear objectives in the operational plans of each competent institution,” Daniel explained.

On a related note, Daniel also stressed the importance of analysing the risk of capitalising on public policies that are still in debate or recently approved, and instead focussing the brand storytelling on attributes already consolidated within the country. While there’s always room for growth and a change in directions, ensuring that you’re not building your messaging on shaky foundations helps preserve the consistency of your strategy.

Be prepared to compromise.

Every politician has their own pressures that they need to bend to – whether that’s the election cycle, the financial year, or their own campaign promises. Understand where the areas are that they can’t back down and build that into your approach.

“The State of Oklahoma ran an open-carry gun bill that we knew would impact our ability to attract future events,” explained Ray Hoyt, President & CEO at Visit Tulsa. “We spoke to the Governor’s office, knowing one of his election pledges was signing a gun bill if it came across his desk. With the odds against us, we worked with many of our legislators and DMOs across the state on the bill to exclude public buildings, arenas, and privately-operated public facilities.”

The compromise successfully prevented the bill from harming the Oklahoman tourism industry – but the success hinged on their understanding of where to push and where to step back.

Be ready to adapt and work flexibly.

“Governments don’t work on countdown clocks. National priorities can change on a daily basis,” Fiona de Jong explained. “By letting go of the ‘release date’ and simply focussing on the next three steps it became less intimidating and more collaborative in nature. By letting go, others felt they were able to move forward at their pace to suit their circumstances.”

It can be frustrating to work to someone else’s timeline, but it’s also a big part of collaborative work – particularly on complex projects such as a new place brand strategy.

And finally, if you want to speak your government’s language, make sure you’re using your government’s language.

Every political institution as their own priorities. Take the UK: the words “Global Britain” have been at the heart of the government’s messaging. A British city that can show that their strategy is a key stepping point in becoming a more ‘Global Britain’ will already have piqued the interest of those in charge.

If you can show how you can deliver on those ambitions, you’re already lending weight to your approach – and repeating their own phraseology hammers that point home.

Related reading:

The place branding bookshelf

Hall of fame: 15 of the best place marketing and place branding campaigns

Has the pandemic killed soft power?

Pura Vida: Costa Rica's brand essence | Winner of the 2019 Place Brand of the Year Award

Destination stewardship and resilience in place brand strategy: leadership lessons from California

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