Magonova and Partners

Government relations: my mistakes and learnings

Government relations: my mistakes and learnings

A couple of generations of deputies, ministers and presidents has changed before Anastasia Magonova's eyes. PR tools changed also. Hit pieces were mixed up with digital. Anastasia tells us about this and other things in her column on

I'll tell you about stones, not underwater ones, but those that, like boulders, lie on the road when you work with government organizations. Government relations are relations with the state. Relationships are always interactions.

When at "Magonova & Partners" I focused my and my team's efforts on working with government authorities, I was unaware of the non-stop flow of problematic tasks and limitations. I started to delve into the work of specialized committees of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, branch ministries, regulatory bodies and local administrations. Their internals differ immensely from those of a business. There is no rush for profit, but there are ambitions within power authorities. I did not see the balance between expectations from a PR agency and the ability to implement the developed strategy.

In certain cases, I clearly saw the manifestation of the Dunning-Kruger effect: the less a person knows, the more confident he is in his knowledge and its limitlessness. This is the so called "illusion of confidence".

I did not have a feeling of a dead-end just because my character pushed me to the next level. Just a little time to breath in and breath out and again, and, yes, sometimes in a circle.

When working on a project, I always defend my idea. I think it over, analyze it, calculate it, visualize it and present it. In cases when I'm sure that everything will work out.

· My five "favorite" answers from government organizations when implementing projects for them:

· "Do everything according to the TA. And can you also ...... Well, no, we have a limited budget"

· "We are a government organization and we cannot do / say / show / pay in that way"

· "Provide more alternatives"

· "We have not yet received instructions for this task."

· "And what is the outcome in the end?"

Over time, I learned how to work with such restrictions.

Me and my team (sometimes I see that we are like a pack, we protect each other) have passed through all 5 stages while working with government organizations: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I will not talk about them, everyone has their own path. I'll tell you about stones, not underwater ones, but those that, like boulders, lie on the road when you work with government authorities. It is impossible not to see them. You can not get them out of the way either. We tried but we only wasted time.

And here are my mistakes and learnings:

_lack of clear understanding of what result is needed and what for

Being a girl from the Arctic Circle, I always seek for specifics - in requests, work, processes, reactions and results. But everything is complicated and you have to adapt and change in the process. Flexibility, but not a giveaway. Always the character and the position. This is the only option if you want to continue working with government organizations.

_not everyone is digital, as they usually say and write about

Government organizations are mostly bureaucratic ones both in processes and in decision-making. Paper documents still exist, unlike dinosaurs. I can not hold back the irony. What to do? To find people who are at least 50% online and work with them.

_all government orders undergo tender procedures

A company or an agency submits documents (online - oh gods!) through Prozorro. If you have won the tender, please, consider the 90 days’ post-payment. You must have finances to fulfill the order and commitments. I remember quite clear the moment when our company won the tender of the Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine. After the victory euphoria has passed, I ran from bank to bank asking for a loan to fulfill a government order.  

The received loan may be not enough. You are lucky if you hit zero.

_you are a business company, that means there is a catch

Once you have completed the work under the contract and received payment - do not exhale. The Control and Audit Department (KRU) will knock on your office door. This is a Service, which monitors expenditure of state institutions’ funds, as well as companies, which receive such funds from budgets of all levels and state foreign exchange funds.

_ strong gale and 10-point waves of scandals

A political scandal may strike your company. For example, the Opposition may accuse the company of unauthorized expenditure of funds and devalue your work.

To work with government organizations, you need a strong character and an understanding of what you are doing it for. Flexible thinking is very important. If you have a project with the shortest possible terms, just keep in mind that the state machine is clumsy. For example, if you are hosting events abroad, you need cover letters from the Foreign Ministry and embassies. We have never managed to do it within the stipulated terms. Only personal contacts and clear explanations of why we need the document "for yesterday" helped.

If you work with a government system, you need a systemic strategy. This is your thread. It can help you to balance, to tense and to release. In my work I always stand for the core and the room for maneuver. In my opinion, only the combination of strategy and adaptive tactics allows working in the chaos of state structures.