You Can Never Have Too Many Friends – Lessons on Coalitions and Alliances

April 29, 2014

You Can Never Have Too Many Friends – Lessons on Coalitions and Alliances

There were tons of great questions this morning at the Public Affairs Council’s workshop on Managing Coalitions and Strategic Alliances.

Tom Zoeller, Communications Director for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and I spoke about how to structure coalitions and alliances for success, with a focus on when coalitions are necessary, what makes for successful partnerships and how to develop and maintain a coalition’s momentum.

Tom drew on his experience rallying allies around the goal of reducing, and hopefully one-day eliminating, the incidence of impaired and distracted driving. I spoke about the lessons we’ve learned at CLS Strategies from our decades of experiences managing coalitions and alliances on behalf of clients such as the life insurance industry, Sirius/XM radio and, more recently, the unmanned systems industry as we march toward the goal of integrating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – more commonly but inaccurately called “drones” – into the UAS airspace.

As many advocacy professionals know, when it comes to influencing policy, you can never have too many friends. Coalitions and alliances are critical components to many successful public affairs campaigns because a broad group of supporters can often accomplish what may be impossible alone.

Of course, when it comes to structuring coalitions that are built to last, one size fits all just won’t work. To truly be effective, you must identify the right potential partners, find the common interests, create a mission statement and objectives that everyone can agree upon, and engage organizations or businesses in ways that they are comfortable and willing to participate. Without question, tailoring and fine-tuning is always needed based on the issue, the goals of the coalition, the types of allies joining forces and the expectations of the coalition members.

Yet, there are some common elements that serve as the foundation of all successful coalitions and alliances, namely a clear understanding of the mission and objectives upon which everyone can agree. When building upon that foundation, one surefire ingredient for success is bringing together “strange bedfellows” under the coalition’s umbrella.

As today’s conversation indicates, building coalitions may be the easy part; keeping them going is often the biggest challenge. What questions do you have about creating, managing or sustaining coalitions and strategic alliances? 

Tweet your questions to us here.

It was a pleasure to join the Public Affairs Council and Tom Zoeller this morning, and to make a few new friends too.

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