The Common Sense Colloquy: Q&A with Shelley Fidler of Van Ness Feldman
In addition to being a former Hill colleague and later client partner, Shelley is also a friend of RENEWPR President Ben Finzel. Shelley is that rare combination of smart, focused, friendly and kind. As a result, she is one of the most connected people in the Washington energy and environment public affairs community. And it’s not just that everyone knows Shelley, but everyone who does also likes Shelley.
At Van Ness Feldman, Shelley works with clients on a diverse array of energy, environment and related issues helping them identify, promote and achieve their public policy objectives. Her career began on Capitol Hill, where she served for twenty years, concluding as Staff Director for the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Power. From there, she was Chief of Staff for the Council on Environmental Quality in the Executive Office of the President, Senior Advisor at the U.S. Department of Energy and Principal Deputy for the White House Climate Change Task Force. As we noted, she’s smart.
Our thanks to Shelley for sharing her time and insight with us – and you.
Q: You've been involved in energy and environmental policy for many years. What is different about how you communicate about it now versus when you started and what is the same (if anything)?
A: First – it should be noted that one important thing has remained the same. The relationships we forge in this town are key communications pathways – and some of the most reliable ways we get information, learn new things, refine our perspectives and, frankly, get things done. The tools we have now – from analytics to instant news online - make inside knowledge less unique and more valuable at least on the surface.
Q: Have your client's expectations about the role of communications in advancing policy changed? If so, how? If not, why do you think that is?
A: I do notice that clients have insatiable appetite for knowing the inside information about Congress and the Administration. Perhaps there was always a demand for this information – but it does surprise me that clients hope for certainty and accuracy in an arena where chance and randomness has become an everyday reality.
Q: If you could tell a prospective client one thing about the value of communications for advancing energy and environmental policy goals, what would it be?
A: I love this question because it is simply a FACT that making the effort to clearly and persuasively communicate with policymakers has never been more necessary and more valuable. At a time when policy chaos is the norm, there remains the need for robust debate, excellent information and respectful communication. These efforts pay off.
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?
A: Never assume that a policymaker knows everything they need to choose to be interested and informed about something you care about. And never assume that the knowledge you have is immutable and guaranteed to get you where YOU want to go. Discussions with elected officials, appointed executive branch officials and the staff that support their work are extremely important to arrive at mutual interest and understanding of complex issues.
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you've given to others?
A: Be humble. Be respectful. Be ambitious to achieve your goals. And get professional help.