Capitol remains closed as Goff’s government relations team prepares for end-of-session push

The Minnesota Legislature is on spring break through April 5. When legislators return to work next week, they will have some of the pieces in place to start constructing the parameters of end-of-session deals.

Both the House and Senate majorities have released their budget targets, which committee chairs will use to construct their omnibus bills. Governor Tim Walz also recently released his supplemental budget, which has significant differences from both the Senate Republican and House DFL budget targets. Despite the February announcement of a $1.6 billion projected budget surplus in the next biennium, the Governor and House Democrats continue to advocate for tax increases for additional state spending. Conversely, Senate Republicans have committed to not raise taxes and instead proposed across the board cuts to state government.

Layer on the complexity of billions of federal dollars flowing into the state after the passage of the American Rescue Plan, and we expect the next month to be full of political posturing. The legislative session will adjourn on May 17, and lawmakers must find agreement on a biennial state budget by then or in subsequent special sessions before June 30 to avoid a government shutdown. Many political observers – like some on our government relations team – are speculating that a global agreement may not be reached until June.

The Minnesota House continues to operate fully remotely while the Minnesota Senate is functioning in a hybrid capacity. Our government relations team continues to be engaged in all the happenings at the Capitol and will keep our clients updated every step of the way.


A billion (dollar) difference 

Senate Republican FY22-23 proposed budget: $51.9 billion

House DFL FY22-23 proposed budget: $52.5 billion

Governor Walz FY22-23 proposed budget: $52.4 billion

Top 5 takeaways from our ‘Future of Media’ webinar

By Chris Duffy

The local and national media landscape has evolved a great deal since I transitioned from broadcast news to public relations nearly 13 years ago. Nightly newscasts were the bread and butter of the TV news business. Legacy newspapers poured significant resources into print editions. Online coverage was growing, but still an afterthought to traditional news delivery.

Since then, the state of journalism can be summarized by one phrase: rapid change. Industry changes were apparent well before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the international health crisis – coupled with renewed conversations about racial and social justice – have only punctuated the challenges (and potential) that face journalism.

On March 25, I was fortunate to moderate Goff Public’s latest webinar, a discussion on the future of Minnesota media. Some of the most recognizable names in statewide journalism joined me: Axios Twin Cities Correspondent Torey Van Oot, Minnesota Reformer Editor in Chief J. Patrick Coolican and Eden Prairie Local News Editor in Chief Brad Canham.

Here are my top five takeaways from the conversation:

1. Profitability is possible in a volatile advertising market 

Nationally, advertising revenue – which accounts for roughly 70% of funding for traditional newspapers – has decreased at least 25% since the start of the pandemic. But locally, bright spots remain.

“We are growing and we are profitable,” Axios’ Van Oot says, adding that about 50% of the company’s revenue comes from newsletter sponsorships. In addition to local and national advertisers that support the Twin Cities newsletter, Axios licenses and sells its newsletter software, formatting and template-style “smart brevity” training for other companies to use internally.

While Axios’ funding is supplemented by events, an HBO show and podcasts, Eden Prairie Local News funding is supported by developers, banks and other local sponsors, plus a Board of Directors that culls funding.

Unlike many traditional news outlets, Axios, the Minnesota Reformer and Eden Prairie Local News provide all content to readers for free (no paywall here).

2. Don’t just know, listen to your audiences 

With increased news segmentation, all panelists stressed the importance of knowing and listening to your audiences. It’s about meeting them where they are, they say.

“I think we’re forcing the bigger players to be more aggressive in their newsgathering,” Coolican says. “The only way we’ve been able to grow our audience is by scoops, breaking great stories.”

In observing the trends over the last year, Coolican says the Reformer audience has grown from a largely Facebook-dominated audience to one that’s more active on Twitter. The team is also considering adding an Instagram presence.

“We’re not chasing pageviews per say but we wouldn’t be successful without an audience,” he says.

Added Van Oot: “Organizations that don’t put their audiences first are going to struggle. You can’t just keep doing things the way we used to be doing them. You need to be listening to your audience and really putting them front and center in everything you do … At Axios we will not waste your time and will not BS you.”

3. New ventures are deeply personal 

Combined, Canham, Coolican and Van Oot have decades of experience covering Minnesota. When Eden Prairie News and Lakeshore Weekly News closed in August 2020, Canham knew something had to be done to sustain local coverage.

“I truly hated the idea that Eden Prairie really had no resource to approach the upcoming elections with objective insights into who you’re supposed to elect,” he said. “I took it personally.”

Today, the outlet employs 12 journalists who cover everything from the Southwest light rail expansion to local hockey and the city council.

4. Gaps in coverage persist – particularly in Greater Minnesota 

Following a slate of news outlet closures, from City Pages and the Southwest Journal to the Hastings Star Gazette, the panelists say local coverage gaps are problematic. News access is particularly problematic in Greater Minnesota.

“It’s certainly something we hope to improve upon in the future. Clearly Greater Minnesota and just rural media in general are struggling and will likely continue to,” Coolican says. “It seems like the quality of the journalism happening in the metro is surpassing the smaller cities and regional centers at this point and clearly the Star Tribune sees an opportunity here.”

While the state’s largest newsroom, the Star Tribune recently expanded their coverage of Duluth and St. Cloud with dedicated staff and email newsletters, Coolican predicts future expansion could include Rochester and Mankato.

“There’s room for more voices. The more people watching government the better,” Van Oot added.

5. Supporting and sustaining news remains important 

How can you support and sustain Minnesota media? Smash that subscribe button. It’s good for business and good for democracy.

Here are just a few outlets you can help:

Axios Twin Cities

Eden Prairie Local News

Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine

Minnesota Monthly

Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

Minnesota Reformer

MinnPost

Sahan Journal

The Minnesota Daily 

Star Tribune

Key communications takeaways from 2021’s virtual legislative session

As we roll into the thick of the 2021 legislative session, it is clear that the original, short-term novelty of governing and lobbying in a virtual environment has worn off for many. While the Senate has shifted to a hybrid model of both in-person and virtual work, the House continues to operate remotely, as do most people who are otherwise usually physically present at the Capitol this time of year.

Legislating remotely accomplishes its goal of keeping people home and safe from exposure to COVID-19. But as the length of time spent virtually tuning into committees grows, so too does frustration. Constituents and advocates are finding it difficult to participate in virtual hearings and committees as legislative staff experience delays in bill drafting and legislators spend extra precious time sourcing accurate, comprehensive information – all while facing increased pressure and needs from everyone.

Paired with no formal back-to-the-Capitol date in sight, these challenges have made it easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure. Below are my top takeaways from this virtual session so far, with observations on how to best work and communicate with the people you need to make a positive impact on this session.

1. Everything takes longer. One of the challenges of any legislative session is the timeline in which work needs to happen. Session is only about five months long and there is a lot of work that needs to get done in that time. With hallway conversations and quick post-meeting debriefs being a thing of the past, communicating, negotiating and responding to complex topics takes much longer than it used to. Persisting through this challenge can be mind-numbing, but stick to respectful follow ups and be comfortable with timelines beyond your control.

2. Some things change, while others stay the same. It used to be incredibly taboo to call or text a legislator or staff person unless there was a five-alarm fire in their district. While it is still important to be respectful in the use of those precious cell phone numbers, use them. Legislators, like the rest of us, are doing their level best to respond and keep up with the information coming their way. They may actually appreciate a gentle text nudge if something has slipped their mind.

3. Email is key. While their inboxes are certainly full, email still seems to be most effective way to reach legislators and staff. When you write your email, make sure it is scannable, to-the-point and that your ask is featured either in the subject line or the first sentence – this helps incentivize a faster reply. That said, it will likely be a while before you get a response. Be patient.

4. Create compelling materials. There are literally volumes of information coming at legislators and staff every day. Written testimony and materials are being encouraged during this virtual time to help manage this. Remember that legislators and staff are real people, too, and that they gravitate toward what’s interesting and new. Think carefully about your testimony, whether delivered in person or in writing. What unique perspective are you bringing to the table? Showcase that. Can you effectively deliver your message through an original, creative presentation? Do that.

5. Remember we are all human. Keep sight of the huge pressure legislators have in putting together a $50 billion state budget from the isolation of their living room, away from their colleagues and staff while feeling like they have limited information and pressure from all kinds of places. Understanding where they are at mentally and managing expectations from there is incredibly important, not only for calculating your next tactic, but also for extending the grace and empathy that many need during this particularly difficult time.

When is it appropriate to issue a statement?

By Jennifer Hellman and Chris Duffy

The past year has been filled with events that have reverberated across the country – prompting companies and organizations across many industries to issue statements in reaction.

Leaders have been increasingly faced with the same dilemma: Should I issue a statement, too?

The decision to make (or not make) a statement should be strategically assessed on a case-by-case basis. To start, reflect on your organization’s values. If the issue at hand is tied to your values and what drives your organization, your audiences would likely find comfort in hearing from you. If you can’t articulate why you are taking a stance on an issue, you probably shouldn’t issue a statement.

If you decide that you should make a statement, here are our top three tips:

1. Construct statements with great care. Your words need to be powerful enough to clearly convey your intent. But avoid hot-button words or phrases that might lead people to lose sight of your meaning.

2. Consider the value of strength in numbers. If it’s an issue that you believe your industry or community should be united on, your voice will add value.

3. Hold yourself accountable. Actions speak louder than words. If you make a promise in a statement, be prepared to fulfill it.

At Goff Public, we have the privilege of working with numerous higher education institutions. Hear more about our thoughts on this topic and how college presidents are weighing these decisions in this recent Inside Higher Ed article: Why presidents say what they say.

Tips to tidy up your communications in 2021

There are routine tasks that tend to pile up on communications professionals’ to-do lists throughout the year. As more pressing issues emerge – which has happened constantly in recent months – these tasks understandably get pushed aside.

But there is great value in maintaining the core components of your communications strategies. When I learned to drive and was responsible for my own car, my dad always stressed how crucial routine maintenance was (sound familiar, anyone?). The same is true for your organization. Upkeep is important and can help you avoid future headaches.

As 2021 gets into full swing, here are some quick tasks you can accomplish to tidy up your organization’s communications for the year ahead:

1. Revisit your key messages and elevator speech. Is there anything you need to change to reflect new priorities or goals?

2. Verify and update the key facts, figures, and statistics that you use in your messaging.

3. Give your website a once-over. Is there outdated information or language that needs a refresh?

4. Google your organization and see what pops up. Are you happy with the results? If not, develop a plan to improve your Google performance.

5. Update the bio and “about” sections on your social media pages.

6. Audit your photo and video assets to determine if you need fresh visuals.

7. Clean up your media list and other distribution lists.

8. Review who you’re following on Twitter and LinkedIn. Add organizations or people that may be missing, like newly elected officials or reporters covering your industry, and unfollow accounts that are no longer relevant.

Crossing some of these tasks off will give you a strong foundation for your communications as we head into what promises to be another unpredictable year.

Reflecting on 2020 and looking forward to 2021

What could be said about this pandemic-dominated year 2020 has already been said a million times over.

“Challenging” and “unprecedented times” are our stock phrases to describe the circumstances we’ve endured. If we’re in a glass-half-full frame of mind, we congratulate ourselves and others for our adaptability and the resiliency we’ve shown in the face of the thousand disruptions large and small in our daily lives.

When we confront things with a sober view, our emotions are a mix of sorrow for a world (yes, imperfect, but previously normal to us) now lost, apprehension about the unknowns ahead, and determination to get on with life regardless. We tally up the social, economic and psychological damage from this annus horribilis but hope that next year will bring improvement and then the start of recovery, like the first green shoots of spring.

Pictured is Goff’s Cali Owings helping a client prepare for a virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony this fall.

At Goff Public, we typically help clients share good news, elevate their reputations and solve routine communications challenges. But since the pandemic descended on us in March, we have largely been called to help our clients deal with incredible difficulties and major changes. The circumstances of this year have made our work in the use of communications and persuasion even more important. We have a humble appreciation for what we have been able to do for people this year as they face some of the greatest problems in the history of their organizations and communities.

So, what can you expect from us at Goff Public in 2021? More of the same. Our role is to walk side by side with our clients – as problem solvers, advocates, advisers, creative thinkers and grind-it-out doers. We are doing our work better than ever before. And we will continue to be here for you.

Strategic philanthropy: What it is and why you should practice it

We are in the midst of the holiday season – the “giving” season – during a pandemic and economic crisis. Many donor organizations have become financially hard-pressed, necessitating that they curtail or narrow their charitable giving. At the same time, many recipient organizations – nonprofits which address educational, health, hunger, human development, housing and other social problems – face enormous new demands for their programs and services.

With these simultaneous problems of greater needs and diminishing resources, there is no more urgent time than the present for funders to reassess the what, why and how of their activities.

If your organization is not already practicing strategic philanthropy, now is the time to begin doing so.

What is strategic philanthropy? It is the practice of aligning an organization’s charitable giving with its broader mission, values and goals. It also ensures that the social good of an organization’s donations to worthy causes is matched with a corresponding benefit for the donor.

Some might find that notion cynical. We’re conditioned to think that donations of money, goods or volunteerism should constitute an altruistic act. But, as much as we like to idealize it, to some extent most charitable giving is transactional in nature.

The two common mistakes that most donor organizations make are:

1. Not being honest about their full motivation for giving and hiding behind that vague, overused phrase of “giving back to the community”; and

2. Not being focused on how doing good for the community should maximize benefits for itself.

Look at it this way: Your company, professional association, labor union, tribal government, or trade association will best be able to serve the community and your members/employees while continuing to perform acts of charity if it survives and thrives. Being deliberate about the benefits you hope to reap from those same charitable acts simply advances your organization’s staying power to perform its mission and contribute to society. When the economy is on such shaky ground as it is now, this makes especially good sense.

Strategic philanthropy can help organizations accomplish a variety of goals, including:

• Establishing (or rehabilitating) an external reputation or brand

• Bolstering the organization’s culture or internal reputation

• Asserting a leadership position on an issue or within a community

• Strengthening relationships with existing stakeholders (employees, members, customers, guests, vendors, neighbors, etc.)

• Building new relationships

• Galvanizing other donors to join in support of a cause

None of these goals is ethically compromised or compromising in and of itself. And all of them can benefit the public at the same time they benefit the organization pursuing them.

When you donate your money, goods or services, you will amplify its strategic value for yourself (and often your recipients) by an accompanying exercise of moral leadership. This can take several forms:

• Organizing your giving thematically, even packaging it as a campaign focused on a single problem and thereby bringing greater public awareness to it.

• Being a thought partner: Not just giving away some of your money, goods or time, but also your and your employees’ expertise and best thinking.

• Using the power of convening: Lending your reputation and prestige to recruit and partner with other groups to bring more resources or attention to a problem you want to be known as helping to solve or ameliorate.

Too often, organizations let vague goals drive their charitable giving. While it may cover a lot of bases, their scattershot approach to donations will diffuse their ability to make a real difference in the community and do little to advance their own strategic imperatives. Applying the principles of strategic philanthropy will help you avoid these pitfalls, better integrate your charitable activities with your core mission or business, and let you derive the maximum benefit of your good deeds.

Helping others is one of the most characteristic impulses defining our humanity. At this time when the world is so unpredictable and nothing can be taken for granted in the business and professional world, strategic philanthropy offers a way to realize the adage, “you do well by doing good.”

We’d be delighted to hear from you and help develop or fine-tune your organization’s strategic philanthropy plan.

The 2020 elections: Minnesotans opt for divided government (again)

Now that the 2020 election campaign season is behind us, it’s worth asking ourselves what it all meant. While the ballots were still being counted, the presidency and control of the U.S. Congress received most of the attention. But the real-world impact for most of us will be more greatly influenced by state politics. It’s striking to note that more than $23 million was spent by the state’s traditional major parties (Republican and DFL) to influence state legislative races.

Here are my key takeaways from the 2020 campaign trail and the days that have followed:

We need to educate voters not only on how to vote, but on what happens after they vote. Like any political nerd, I was glued to my TV screen, Twitter feed and about 30 different tabs on my computer trying to get results on election night – which turned into the day after the election, which turned into two days after the election, which…you get the point. Even my most astute colleagues (and many state legislative candidates) questioned immediately reported results as inaccurate. On election night, our state’s elections website was showing 100% of precincts reported but also communicated extremely low voter turnout, which didn’t jive with anything we anticipated. By the next day, things seemed to right themselves here in Minnesota, but nationally you could sense mass confusion on how ballots were being counted, particularly in how absentee or early ballots were being calculated.

On top of this, the rhetoric about rampant voter fraud led many voters to doubt the fundamentals of our democracy – and I don’t blame them. Candidates, political parties, and even our nonpartisan election judges and tabulators tend to expend all their energy getting voters to the polls but forget about telling them what comes next. This election cycle, one valuable takeaway is that voter education shouldn’t end when someone casts their vote and collects their “I Voted” sticker. Communicating clear expectations (both in advance of and throughout the process) about how ballots will be counted, how results will be reported and when results may be known should be a top priority for our elections officials.

Political parties need to listen to constituents (not activists) to truly meet voters where they are at. As mentioned, we saw an incredible amount of money spent by political parties and their allies to influence Minnesota’s legislative elections. We saw lit pieces, heard radio commercials and (in some parts of the state) saw local cable ads talking about issues that simply were not the issues voters were talking about at their kitchen tables. From DFL allies tying candidates to cleaner energy proposals or Republican allies keeping their candidates close to issues of law and order, Minnesota voters spoke clearly that those messages weren’t really going to work for them.

We see this in DFL legislative candidates’ inability to sweep the suburbs and regional centers, which many anticipated. DFLers tied a lot of their messaging to the national platform and attempted to link state Republicans to the shortcomings of President Trump, hoping this would gain them suburban seats like they did in 2018 with success. For their part, Republicans hoped to make gains in the suburbs and greater Minnesota by tying state DFL legislative candidates to Governor Walz’s exercise of executive power and uncomfortable social unrest.

We are hearing more and more about Minnesota voters’ motivations and it appears that both parties missed the mark a bit. More voters are “in the middle” instead of on the fringes that major political parties play to. I think there’s enough we know about this election cycle that hints to political parties that they should pay attention in order to have electoral success moving forward – Minnesota likes balanced government, and they will vote for it.

This leads me to my final takeaway:

All politics have the chance to be local. This cycle, there’s a lot of evidence of ticket splitting: Joe Biden outperformed U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar; some state legislative Democrats in greater Minnesota underperformed Joe Biden; some state legislative Republicans outperformed Donald Trump in the suburbs; the list goes on. It has long been a strategy of political parties to seize upon the strengths of the candidate of the highest office in election years, the theory being that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Here in Minnesota, we saw that voters differentiate their support of Joe Biden and their frustration with state DFL electeds. And we saw voters who support the work of President Trump, but feel state Republican leaders have fallen short. Both political parties are going to need to do some soul-searching to better understand these voters. For incoming legislators, these November election results should tell them a lot about what kind of elected officials their constituents demand come January 2021.

Civic engagement is good for business

Politics tend to make companies and business leaders nervous. That’s why prior to this year, standing on the sidelines was often the default approach. But in 2020, employers are engaging on topics they never would have before. Many employees and consumers who used to prefer that companies stay out of politics now expect them to get engaged in civic discourse. It turns out that if done right, civic engagement can actually be good for business.

Company leaders should not feel nervous about encouraging employees to exercise their right to vote and get involved in the political process. Successful civic engagement campaigns give employees the tools they need to learn who their candidates are, what they stand for and how to vote. Some companies, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, even embrace civic engagement as part of their mission. President and CEO Craig Samitt said they believe that “community health is shaped by the strength of the democratic process.”

Companies that have taken on civic engagement campaigns aimed at informing their employees and encouraging them to vote have found that it positively impacts their brand. A 2019 case study by Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation found that both small, internally-focused efforts as well as large, externally-focused campaigns led to positive impacts for business, as well as increased voter turnout. Companies in the study cited “meeting consumer expectations, raising brand awareness and increasing employee satisfaction” as benefits their business experienced from communicating about civic responsibility.

While Minnesota law requires employers to provide time off for voting without the loss of pay, personal leave, or sick time, a growing number of companies are making additional accommodations for employees this year, such as closing their stores or offices on Election Day, limiting office hours or meetings that day, or offering paid time for voting and volunteer efforts. For great examples, check out the more than 1,300 companies that have made public commitments to give their employees time to vote this year as part of a nonpartisan campaign called “Time to Vote,” started by Patagonia, Levi Strauss and PayPal.

Even though Election Day is drawing near, remember that civic engagement happens year-round. It’s never too late to thoughtfully plan for an employee or consumer-focused civic responsibility program. We’re going to have a lot of new elected officials at all levels of government in January. It would be an opportune time to help employees better understand how their government works for them and encourage them to engage.

Pay attention to what other companies are doing and use these examples as inspiration for your own plan to strengthen your company culture through civic engagement. Or, call Goff Public. We can support you in designing your own program tailored to your company’s unique culture, values and goals.