Influencing the actions of municipal governments has taken on increased importance in recent years. Not only has the creation of mega-cities expanded the impact of municipal governments but there is also an increasing recognition that cities are key transmission points for the economy. In sum, municipal advocacy is more important than ever.
The fundamental principles of advocacy campaigns remain constant when dealing with all three levels of government. This includes the importance of issue identification, goal setting, and background research. The most important shift to make when working at the municipal level is to recognize the decentralized decision-making process within Canada’s cities. Without central government to focus on, groups must plan campaigns that take into account a wider variety of stakeholders and the different motivations of decision makers. An advocacy presentation aimed at municipal council needs to reflect arguments that play strongly to the impact on local voters, while presentations made to department heads of chief administrators must be focused on technical merit and financial factors.
As always, the local media is a significant factor in shaping municipal debates: advocates needs to play close attention to media relations that involve local radio talk shows, community newspapers, and newspaper columnists on the city hall beat.
It is also important to recognize the other trend in Canada of urban issues having a higher profile within the national policy framework. Not only are groups such as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) increasingly calling for the federal government to establish revenue sharing options to support municipal responsibilities, there is also a shift in thinking at the national level that recognizes the enormous social and economist impact municipal policy has on Canadians.
As a result, many groups are now actively involved in managing advocacy efforts dealing with several levels of government. Your approach to local government advocacy can be a key component to your overall public relations strategy, complementing your other efforts.
Huw Williams is President of Impact Public Affairs, an Ottawa-based public relations and government relations firm specializing in finding innovative strategic communications and advocacy solutions for large industry associations. Over the years, Impact has been recognized nationally and internationally for the effective and creative public affairs campaigns that it has created for its client.