10 Jun Caleb Wright
The Importance of Relationships in Public Policy
Despite his friends thinking that all he does is go for coffee, lunches and dinners, Caleb Wright’s active role in social networking is actually a part of his job in public policy at both the state and federal level of the Pennsylvania Legislature. As Chief Operating Officer (COO) for Versant Strategies, Caleb wears multiple hats of social networking, analytical policy reading, strategic consulting, and organizing operating systems for business. One thing is for sure, though, he definitely loves his job!
Versant means “having good knowledge of” and Versant Strategies strives to give their clients the benefits of their in-depth industry knowledge and skills on the Hill. Their expertise is in navigating legislative and regulatory issues for nearly any organization’s governmental relations concern. They are a close knit shop that stays true to their niche; the rural roots that the employees come from.
The Journey; From Ag Teacher to Public Policy
“I honestly stumbled into it,” Caleb says about his current career. “I had no idea that rural ag environmental policy was a thing or how to even get connected to it; I lucked into an awesome career path!”
The former agricultural teacher says that he sometimes misses the bell schedule and the structure it brings, but his ability to wear a multitude of hats, be involved with a variety of groups and spend his day making a strong impact on an industry that he is proud of is an immense amount of enjoyment for him. Hired into the position of COO, Caleb almost felt like it was “luck” by a mentor sending his resume with a blessing to another mentor, who would later become his boss.
As a smaller shop, a lot of the employees work on the advocacy side, but Caleb’s strength is also in the organizational portion of keeping the firm moving forward, meeting clients needs and making sure that they stay on track. As one can imagine, there is a lot of state and federal regulation that they have to comply with.
Handling Adversity with A Project Management Skill Set
Working in public policy, it is inevitable for an outcome to be met that can make a client unhappy. Here are some tips for making sure that you do your best to keep the client happy:
- Have open lines of communication
- Understand what their expectations are
- Sit down and review your clients routinely to ensure you accomplish their needs weekly
- Provide what is deliverable back to the client as much as possible
- Do not be afraid to show the value of your work, it is a part of customer service
Managing a Bipartisan Mindset
“Whenever we look at public policy, it’s easy to lump that into politics,” explains Caleb. Most of the issues that he works on are not a “D” issue or an “R” issue; it is an “A” issue – an agricultural issue. Some of these get made bipartisan with two very different sides.
Stripping away the feelings of each party and looking at the issue as “who does this benefit” or “how does this benefit” is how Caleb is able to maintain a level of fairness.
“Being bipartisan in how we work and making sure we can talk to people across the aisle means that our firm has longevity,” Caleb explains. “As that party changes, if you are one-sided, that firm can lose its viability.”
How to Analyze Public Policy:
- Building Relations.
Creating authentic connections with those on the backside of policy, the ones in the trenches writing the policy, helps you stay connected as a lobbyist on the other side of the table.
- The Heart of the Legislature.
Especially when picking up a new client, it’s important to get to the heart of the state and federal issues for that client. Has a bill been introduced? Where is it at? Has it been debated before?
- Develop Educational Materials.
Working with the client, develop materials that could potentially be distributed for background information.
- Always Be Learning.
You can be technically competent but with environmental and agricultural issues, there are always nuances and lots to nitpick. Always learn more and go back to the client for more information.
- Lobbying As A Strategy.
What message do you need to create?
Where does it need to get heard to get the result you want?
Does it need to be rushed through the legislature to a finish line or slowed down?
Tips From a Lobbyist for Building Relationships
- NEVER type anything that you wouldn’t be willing to have on the front page of the New York Times the next day. Whether it be email or social media, if you don’t want the world to see it then you probably shouldn’t be typing it.
- CREATE goodwill constantly! Send a happy birthday text, send a nice message, buy a gift for someone, and elevate yourself as a person.
- NEVER turn down the opportunity to take someone to coffee and be willing to pay for it.
- BE AWARE that the younger generation is changing jobs faster than ever before meaning that you have no idea who your old connections new connections may be, they could be valuable to you.
- BE the positive individual.
Make sure to subscribe to the AgGrad YouTube Channel to learn more about career opportunities in agriculture and follow along on the special “30 Under 30 in Agriculture” series! You can connect with Caleb to ask policy questions over a cup of coffee through Versant Strategies website.
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