From the House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee’s investigation of competition in digital markets to the state of California’s passage of a bill requiring app-based companies such as Uber and Lyft to treat contract workers as employees, 2019 has seen a major shift in how U.S. policymakers and legislators approach the tech industry. More is coming.
Increasing Congressional oversight and accelerating state-level regulation will impact the entire industry, not just the giants. Take for example the autonomous vehicle market. According to the National Committee of State Legislatures, 33 states introduced autonomous vehicle legislation in 2017 and 15 states enacted legislation in 2018 – yet most people have never even seen a self-driven car on the road.
State and federal laws like these have the potential to catalyze rapid growth – or stifle it overnight. The same could be said about other segments of tech, which must consider the impact of policy issues such as tax, trade and tariffs, China, AI, and data privacy.
As governments consider more tech regulation, many businesses will follow in the footsteps of giants like Google and Apple and choose to engage in policy conversations on a national or international scale. This doesn’t always mean lobbying – engaging with media or speaking publicly on policy can be just as, if not more, effective. Before your company enters the fray, however, you must understand the policy landscape and leverage that knowledge to determine first what your stance on policy issues should be and then whether it’s appropriate or even beneficial for you to engage. Understanding those pieces will help you develop a robust communications plan capable of influencing the outcome.
Here are some questions to ask as you build that plan:
How Does Policy Impact You?
You may be wondering, “How is policy relevant to my business?” It’s possible that the nature of work in your segment of the tech industry means you have been largely unaffected by policy threats– so far. But that could change soon.
Congress is cracking down on companies that gather private customer data for any reason. Today, there is talk of instituting new privacy regulations on businesses akin to those mandated by HIPAA in healthcare. At the state level, many are busy writing new laws to regulate how tech companies gather, share and utilize private data. As the patchwork of rules grows, it will become increasingly difficult to comply with varying regulations. Experts believe companies will opt to comply with the strictest state’s laws to ensure nationwide compliance.
On the other end of the spectrum, public policy can also enable innovation and growth. For instance, if you work in cybersecurity, the lack of diversity in STEM education and the resultant difficulty of feeding the job pipeline will impact your business – not to mention the nation’s cybersecurity – in coming years. Congress and states are increasingly paying attention to everything from STEM curriculum to workforce retraining to the cost of higher education – and even alternative models to higher ed.
So, how do you stay ahead of possible policy threats and shape potential opportunities? Understanding what’s happening in D.C. will allow you to anticipate the impact of these changes on your business, and the customers you serve. Armed with that foreknowledge, you will be able to position yourself strategically to benefit from future policy shifts. Better yet, you can shape policy conversations to point lawmakers in the right direction.
What Is the Right Way to Engage?
Your first step should be developing an appropriate strategy. Whether or not you choose to pursue a lobbying campaign down the line, a strong communications plan can help lay the groundwork and serve as a powerful complement to those efforts in order to publicly position your company as a leader on a given policy issue. When developing your strategy, you should ask:
- What is the potential for this policy to directly or indirectly impact my business?
- How do I want to shape or shift conversations around this policy?
- How could this communications strategy contribute to my long-term business goals?
- Do I have the right team in place to execute on a strategy that takes public affairs into account?
- When and in what venues should my team publicly engage if needed?
Once you determine that your best course of action is to speak out on an issue, then the question is how to get your message in front of the right people. That may mean engaging the press. It could mean direct engagement with policymakers on the local or national level. Or it could mean taking advantage of digital platforms to reach influencers online and steer conversations on social media. By combining these communications strategies, you can make sure your policy ideas and recommendations reach those with the power to create change.
In the years to come, we foresee even more Congressional oversight and legislation directly impacting the tech industry and the use of technology in other industries. That’s why it’s important for every company – whether you create technology or simply depend on it – to be aware of and prepared for major policy shifts. Once you’ve considered the policy threats and opportunities, developed a communications plan and gathered the appropriate resources, you’ll be ready to take on Washington!
RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm providing public relations for innovators in the technology, public sector, and healthcare markets.