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Memo to the CEO: How to choose the right policy partners

Welcome back to our series on "Memo to the CEO: How to be effective at the intersection of policy and business." Last week we shared our thoughts on leveraging marketing best practices in your policy work. This week we focus on our fourth principle:

4. Choosing effective partners can make all the difference.

Cross-sector initiatives, like the U.S. Climate Action Partnership or the U.S. Partnership for Renewable Energy Finance, help to advance common interests among different companies and across different sectors. Through these initiatives, policymakers are able to see that the policy objectives are not just pet projects or sweetheart deals for a single company, but market makers for whole segments of the economy.

Of course, the bigger the tent, the harder it is to keep it propped up -- which is why it's important to choose your partners wisely. Here are a few points to keep in mind:

• NGOs have their own agenda. While nonprofits can be helpful subject matter experts and thought partners in policy strategy, they are not the organizational equivalent of Switzerland. Nonprofits raise money from foundations and other donors looking to support a cause. It's important to understand their agendas and highlight areas of alignment -- providing an important foundation for potential collaborations.

• Acknowledge the strength of associations, but move beyond them. Industry or trade associations can be helpful resources for industry-specific information gathering and idea-sharing. That said, they also tend toward the "lowest common denominator" solution, which plays to your defensive strategy but may not be the most effective engine for your unique innovative policy objectives.

Differentiate yourself from your competition by forging partnerships outside of your industry and across government, nonprofit and corporate sectors. Policymakers will take a second look at your proposals when you bring a more diverse group to the table. For example, Cisco is thinking about its smart grid platform in an "ecosystem" approach and is engaging at the community-level for widespread adoption of this expensive yet important technology change.

• Cut across government levels. International bodies take their cues from country-level governments; federal policy makers tend to build on the work of individual states; and states like to learn from municipalities.

Jump-start the cross-pollination by engaging at all levels of government. Governors are among those with the greatest influence in Washington -- see how you can combine forces at the state level to also advance federal objectives.

• Customers are partners, too. In the world of Facebook and Twitter, your customers can be your strongest advocates. Partner with them to co-create solutions, and then lean on them to help your company tell your story.

This article was previously published on

Topics: Sustainability