Getting Government Engagement Right in Latin America

Country and regional heads at Frontier Strategy Group client companies are increasingly turning their attention to their government engagement function, and for good reason. It is evident that government decisions often hold the key to significant risks and opportunities, from regulatory issues to government sales, that can deeply impact the bottom line.

Clients express that they are wrestling with a variety of questions when it comes to running successful government engagement functions. These questions can be broken down into three principle challenges:

  • Ensure the company invests the right amount in government engagement. MNCs struggle to quantify the function’s contribution to business objectives, which often leads to a crisis-response approach to investment.
  • Generate positive engagement when government actors are initially unreceptive. This is particularly challenging because governments typically hold all the power in any given interaction and the panoply of government actor interests is much more diverse and complex than the typical business partner’s interest in increasing profitability.
  • Capitalize on the abilities of third parties without putting the company at risk. This is particularly challenging because the same reasons that lead government engagement offices to turn to third parties – lack of internal staff presence on the ground, expertise, or connectedness – are the very elements that make it difficult to monitor third parties and make sure they are not engaging in wasteful or unethical practices on one’s behalf.

In response to these challenges, the government engagement function often resorts to a reactive, problem-solving approach. However, Frontier Strategy Group’s cross-industry research reveals that to succeed, the government engagement function should reframe traditional ROI evaluations to embrace the broader goals of government engagement, thus creating a proactive decision framework. This new ROI approach applies to each of the three major challenges companies face:

  • Justify Your Investment – First understand how to tailor your investments to the realities presented by each country’s business and political environment. Then size up the “R” in ROI by taking a value at stake approach to determining which issues the government engagement function should prioritize, well in advance of the development of serious problems.
  • Earn Your Influence – Make sure you time the “I” well in ROI. Provide direct value to key contacts in government before you need their assistance, for instance by offering research on a topic where your company has expertise or by partnering to help a government sector operate more efficiently. Build political support by building domestic companies into your supply chain.
  • Discipline Your Delegates – Do not take short cuts with third parties. A low “I” does not guarantee high ROI if the “R” turns out to be negative. If you decide to hire a consultant, lobbying agency, or legal firm, you must first invest in sufficient due diligence to be sure they will not indirectly involve you in a scandal by association with other clients, or by hiring unauthorized fourth parties. Second, invest in helping third parties to really understand your industry so that they can better serve you.

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