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The Web and the Government Affairs:12 Things You Need to Know

By Scott Proudfoot, Principal
February, 2000

I was asked recently to provide a one pager on what the Internet could mean to the corporate government affairs functions.  If you are seasoned government affairs professional with a good handle on your current sphere of activity, here are a few things to think about:

  • The Internet is the ‘Swiss Army Knife” of political advocacy and organization.
  • The cause-driven campaign organizations have been quickest off the mark to exploit the Internet’s political potential. 
  • The Internet creates a more level playing field between those with lots of money and those with a little. It doesn’t cost a fortune to create a professional web site to self-publish, attract supporters, and organize campaigns. 
  • Journalists and legislative researchers are turning first to the Internet for information.  Will your organization quickly turn up in their search? If not you, then who?   Which search engines are the default choices on the intranets of your main government regulators? How do you rank on those search engines?  Most companies have already lost the territorial advantage in this new medium - and don’t even know it!  
  • Surveys suggest people give more credibility to the content on the Internet compared to newspapers or TV. 
  • The Internet makes your organization more transparent in ways you can’t control. People get together effortlessly to talk to each other about your business. They may even be talking to your employees.  Many will get better information about your company from each other, rather than you. So whom are they going to trust? 
  • The Internet means lobbying must be more transparent. 
  • People take approximately 8 seconds to decide whether to stay on a site. Some corporate web sites take eight second or more downloading their ‘gee whiz” graphics. If companies do have policy positions, they may not be on their web site. If they are on the web site, they may be hard to find. 
  • Business brings the language of the pitch, the annul report, and the marketing brochure to the Internet. It doesn’t work well. The Internet is a personal interactive medium. What works best is establishing a conversation. Both political parties and businesses try to control the message, which makes them poor conversationalists. 
  • Politicians and lobbyists traditionally deal with opponents by attack, co-option or inclusion.  Through the Web, you can have a very effective opposition and still not know whom you should attack, co-opt, or include. 
  • The Internet speeds the pace that political issues circulate around the globe.  Damaging information about your industry, posted on a web site in Asia or Europe, can be re-posted to e-mail groups in North America in a matter of hours. 
  • Activist organizations increasingly target multinationals to effect social change.  This is moving from a PR option to a preferred strategy. Governments are either too slow, bogged down or sitting on the fence. Large companies are often more responsive to certain types of public pressures. The Internet will be a global theatre of operations for these types of campaigns.

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