Photo by Duane Tinkey
Photo by Duane Tinkey

A background in politics gave John Stineman skills he now uses to help businesses. Stineman worked on Gov. Terry Branstad’s 1994 re-election campaign and managed the Iowa campaign for Steve Forbes’ 2000 presidential bid. Out of politics for 12 years and now the president of the public affairs consulting firm Strategic Elements LLC, Stineman helps businesses and associations advance their policy agendas and market themselves. Stineman also started the Heartland Technology Alliance, a coalition of Midwest tech-related businesses and individuals that exists to encourage dialogue about technology and how it can create innovation. Through that organization, he has recently arranged to have Congressmen Tom Latham and Leonard Boswell as well as Branstad to speak to small businesses at StartupCity Des Moines.

How have you prepared yourself to do different jobs (policy and marketing) under the brand of Strategic Elements?

Traditionally you would think of it as different skill sets. But what I’ve found is it’s all about critical and creative thinking. In the policy world, yes, you have to work with a lot of set parameters and the way things have always been. But when you apply new thought, critical thought, and look at the issues in different ways, and how you can best position them, there’s value in that. I work on mobilizing constituencies and building coalitions and getting attention for issues that need attention, but when you boil down what those skill sets are and those things you are trying to do, there’s a lot of commonality to marketing, and to helping businesses appeal to their customers.

Tell me about Heartland Technology Alliance

Technology is one of those things that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It’s transformative, but what nobody ever stops to think about is what’s behind that technology. There’s a lot that goes on behind it. So we have to make sure that we don’t ignore that infrastructure that’s behind it. We’re trying to elevate this discussion. We’re trying to make sure that people understand that if we’re engaged in it, we’re more likely to be successful in it. It’s one of those things that people have to have a better understanding of, because the choices, the decisions that are made about it, and the investment in it, and making sure the investment is there – we all depend on that. So my job is to make sure people are talking about it.

Why has it been important to connect startup companies with elected officials?

We feel like startups are a good opportunity in the Midwest. Again, technology is the great equalizer. Most of these startups can do it from anywhere they want. So for our best and brightest who want to go stake their claim and take a risk, we want them to do it here. A lot of elected officials aren’t deeply immersed in how startups work and what they’re trying to achieve. Oftentimes they are just lumped into being a small business, when they are really a fundamentally different creature. So we took it on as an initiative to help that dialogue. We try to make sure (startups) understand the policy issues that can affect them, make sure policymakers understand (startups) as well, the issues as well as start-ups fundamentally.

How has your background in politics prepared you for what you are doing now?

You have to pay attention to a wide breadth of issues. In politics, you are under fire. It’s a quick deadline, so you get trained to be a very quick study. You need to be able to summarize what an issue is, form an opinion, and understand where people would be on the issues. So taking that base skill and applying it over to businesses ... you look at the big picture and very quickly dial in what it is you want to accomplish.

Does your background in Republican politics have an effect on your current work?

I don’t get paid to do politics, and I don’t want to. I do have political thinking, but my job is to figure out how it’s going to work. I work with Republicans and Democrats. I work with independents. I work with all stripes, because we’re working on issues that transcend partisan politics. My experience isn’t about Republican experience. My experience is about political experience, and how to navigate that, and how to speak with your audiences in a way that they can understand what you are trying to achieve and bring people together. It’s about understanding politics, not about being political.

What do you do outside work?

I love to spend time with my kids. So between tae kwon do and soccer and basketball and music and Legos, I’m pretty busy with kids. That’s really what I enjoy doing, spending time with my wife and family.