Advocacy Strategy and Legislative Communication Primer

By Kate McPherron and Dianne Danowski Smith, APR

Most companies know more about funding than about their need to advocate and engage in the public policy arena to assure the furtherance and protection of innovation, intellectual property and patient access. Oregon Bio helps companies and researchers engage with their local policymakers and legislators on issues important to them. This primer will explain why and when to get involved, as well as details about communicating your needs and getting involved on the Oregon and national policy stage.

What is “advocacy” and why is it important?

Bio companies spend so much time looking ‘in the microscope’ that they may forget they are part of a large ecosystem and supply chain. Companies select where to locate based on the support they get from the region’s infrastructure, incentives, collaborative and hiring opportunities, culture, and so on. State and regional governments support these aspects and companies’ growth, through funding and financial incentives, education, economic development, etc. It is in the interest of policy and governmental leaders that companies grow and thrive, because they contribute to job creation, tax bases and the overall economy. But their decisions about how to execute legislation depends on hearing from the people that laws affect. Advocacy encourages the refinement of the ecosystem through legislation: Giving the company or organization impacted by new or changes in policy a voice in its laws.

Why do companies need advocacy?

“Advocacy is essentially advancing a platform or agenda,” says Dennis McNannay, executive director of Oregon Bio. “Our job as a trade group is to advocate for the industry, to build a platform so our member companies can really flourish. Most think of it as a legislative issue, but really, if you’re not thinking ‘what’s the agenda?’ every time you open your mouth, you should be. Oregon Bio’s focus in 2015 is to move the industry sector forward with legislators.”

“We’re at an inflection point this year because we’ve had a huge influx of capital to advance and move the ball. The legislature has advanced research through a commitment of capital, SBIR matching grants and more.”
Dennis McNannay, Oregon Bioscience Association Executive Director

Adds McNannay, “Governor Kitzhaber sees that many of Oregon’s traditional industries, such as timber, are waning. Only a few industries are growth sectors, and biotech has and is poised to continue growing rapidly. The industry is on par to become one of the premier industry sectors. Advocacy has to be put in place carefully, so that businesses stay here and grow, growing the job base with it. We’re here to advocate as it becomes one of the growth engines in Oregon, to keep letting legislature and other influencers know what will help it grow and what won’t.”

“We’ll also educate Oregon policymakers about the aggressive efforts other states are making to attract and retain these high-wage job producers. In order to compete for our share of the research, therapeutic and manufacturing companies, Oregon must adopt more attractive policies and incentives.”

Advocacy Strategy and Legislative Communication Primer1

Oregon Bio’s position – how the association helps companies

“Oregon Bio is in the process of clearly defining advocacy and its position,” explains McNannay. “In 2007, we formed the Government Affairs and Advocacy Committee (GAAC) to ensure that Oregon Bio becomes a leading voice in the biotech and medical device sector, particularly where it affects companies’ growth and commercialization.”

“The committee focuses on opportunities to grow the biotech sector, much as California did several decades ago, except in our own Oregon fashion. That means we’re not going to grow Genentech here, but have incredible opportunity in Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) / OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. OHSU is one of state’s largest employers and is a key asset that attracts and maintains biotech in Oregon. The challenge of large gifts such as the Knight Cancer Challenge is to assure that we collaborate with universities and that we’re supporting discovery, innovation and tech transfer. Oregon Bio can help companies bridge the gap from research to commercialization.”

Oregon Bio supports public policies that foster job creation and promote growth of the life science industry by:

• Supporting productive business incentives that encourage traded sector industries, reward innovation, and stimulate research commercialization and entrepreneurship
• Promoting the creation of larger pools of investment capital to support emerging bioscience companies
• Advocating for the growth of health care markets and ensuring adequate access to health care products and services for all Oregonians, while avoiding narrow or punitive regulatory structures

How Oregon compares to other states’ “Best Practices”

12 States: Match Phase One and Two SBIR grants

WA: Dedicates 10 percent of tobacco settlement to bioscience R&D

GA: Attracted more than 50 “Eminent Scholars” since 1990

IL: Provides workforce grants to companies hiring part-time graduate students for lab jobs while in school

What your company can do: Get involved!

If you’re reading this, you’re ready to ask how you can help. There will be times when Oregon Bio needs particular industry expertise that will be valuable when legislators and economic development decision makers are debating what actions to take. We may need to hear from constituents and thought leaders.

“We will be reaching out to our membership to advocate. During the legislative session, we’re going to ask for membership support in the form of letters or calls. We have key policymakers and they need to hear from constituents in their districts – Portland, Bend, Eugene, Corvallis and more. We’ll be calling targeted companies to engage with their representatives on various issues.

For instance, in 2013, Sen. Richard Devlin (D-District 19) proposed a workforce package, all as a result of a tour of Biotronik. He chairs the Senate finance committee and saw this company with 700 high-paying life science jobs and wanted to help them. He became a huge supporter. But it’s just as important to work with the legislators who might be a stumbling block. It will really help if a company tells them, ‘these policies hurt my business and my employees.’ Help them make the connection.”

Life Sciences Day in Salem: SAVE THE DATE when Oregon Bio members should get out to the Capitol ! We invite you to attend this event May 26, 2015.

Plan and prepare to engage

Prepare and execute

How can you and your company, institution or organization get involved with Oregon Bio’s policy goals? Here are seven simple steps to help you get started:

1. Once you’ve defined or learned about the issue, find out who else in your company, institution or organization is also interested in it. Many companies, institutions and organizations employ lobbyists or public affairs professionals who create, advance or defend policies that help the industry grow and thrive.
2. Set forth the policy position clearly and succinctly. Oregon Bio has established a page on its website to explain key advocacy efforts and issues, so refer to to learn more.
3. Determine the rest of the voices on the issues. Likely, your concern is also others’ issue, so look to build momentum by determining who else in your community or industry is also invested in an outcome.
4. Research who your local legislator, policymaker or commissioner is. Some issues are germane to the geographic jurisdiction, while some have statewide or even federal impact.
5. Pursue discussions with these elected officials and offer to provide pertinent studies, positioning statements, white papers or legal opinions. If your issue or concern is not resolved in these discussions, you can offer to help create legislation or ballot measures to address it. Understand that public officials often meet with many citizens and business leaders such as yourself, so some issues, while important to you, may not yet be a priority to them. Work hard on educating them about your industry, and your firm. Remember to be accurate and concise in the information you leave with them. Ask questions to determine if they have previously established a position on the issue. Many public officials have key staff members that advise them in particular industry segments so learn more about who the staff members are and what their role is on that policymaker’s team.
6. Prepare a campaign. Read up on how successful campaigns are conducted from both the advocacy as well as the public relations perspectives. Many public relations and public affairs tools exist to move public opinion, such as visiting with the local newspaper’s editorial board, building a community coalition, establishing a social media presences, enacting petitions, etc.
7. Check back with your legislator/policymaker often during the process as often bill language evolves throughout the committee and voting timeline. Keep up your public relations and communications efforts both with your coalition (as applicable) and the public.

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Kate McPherron provides strategic communications consulting to organizations in bioscience, energy efficiency, engineering and high-tech. Kate’s history includes running successful low-budget, tight-deadline product launches and company introductions; ongoing product/PR management; as well as writing and coordinating documentation projects for large, regulated companies. Key to Kate’s work is unearthing, defending and persuading a viewpoint, often communicating technical information to a less-savvy audience. Contact Kate at

Dianne Danowski Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA serves on the board of directors of Oregon Bio, as well as the boards of the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce and Project Access NOW. She is a public affairs and health policy consultant working on local and statewide issues relating to industry growth and public health access.

If you want information on Advocacy, contact Oregon Bio at:

Dennis McNannay, 503-548-4432,
Dianne Danowski Smith, 503-201-7019,


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