Engage Early And Often
In recent weeks the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) noted it plans to develop preliminary rules to govern the use of drones in about 12 months, citing it as a faster-than-average government reaction to new technology.
Not only is this timeline slow, it is woefully inadequate for innovators in this country.
As potential drone users in the commercial space – like Amazon – tested their products and got their proverbial ducks in a row, officials in Washington watched with amazement and interest along with the rest of the country but did not move faster to hasten enabling regulations or demonstration projects.
While Washington believes it has moved heaven and earth to push out new rules for driverless vehicles or drones, its baseline remains stuck dealing with advances in existing technology and slow-moving government morass. Meanwhile, technology companies in Silicon Valley have dozens, if not hundreds, of new ideas in development – waiting until technology is close to ready only brings about the frustrations of the drone industry and others.
As Microsoft learned in its antitrust troubles, startups have learned not to wait until they grow too large to engage the government Still, however, the question persistently arises – when to engage Washington and how? The answer is simple – as early as possible. This is true even in the conceptual stages in order to sow the first educational seeds, and then more aggressively as soon as there is a product to show regulators.
That is only half the problem, however. The technology industry also has to train the government to be more nimble and willing to start earlier to ensure that disruptive technology does not sit on the shelf waiting for government action.
Some companies do see this challenge and engage in policy early, with mixed results. Others ignore Washington or state regulators in the hopes that they will go away.
Companies have the most success when they come to policymakers with an educational campaign and good, exciting news. Even better when the company becomes a household name through the involvement of executives, technology developers, and consistently good messaging, coming back with a request for help in the relatively short time-frame they remain fresh in staffers’ minds.
FTI Consulting is uniquely qualified to promote tech companies’ short-term and long-term business goals in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. because of our comprehensive approach to strategic communications.
Whether it’s helping to attract capital investment or working with policymakers to ensure a favorable regulatory environment, FTI has experienced professionals with strong skills in the federal legislative and regulatory process, in addition to specific issue expertise in the tech policy arena. These unique offerings allow FTI to construct robust client teams that produce uniform messaging strategies that are tailored to certain audiences and delivered in the most efficient and effective manner.
While trade groups and traditional lobbying firms offer support to new and established technology companies, they do not offer the integrated, full suite of services found at FTI.
Technology companies have made great strides in Washington from the years when Microsoft developed in Seattle and ignored policy makers for decades until Washington came calling with an antitrust investigation. But there remains significant work to realign the expectations of regulators and igniting the idea machine in places like Silicon Valley and elsewhere to ensure they are in front of the right people at the right time.
Patrick Robertson is a managing director in the FTI Consulting Strategic Communications practice and is based in Washington, DC.
As a senior member of the firm’s Public Affairs team, Mr. Robertson advises executive teams, boards of directors and senior decision-makers on public policy issues that pose opportunities and challenges to their organizations’ enterprise values. Mr. Robertson’s expertise is in the fields of energy, communications, trade, transportation and tax.