He might not have worked in the natural products industry, but John Spitaleri Shaw is also acutely aware that “highly technical, inside baseball talk” does not make for a winning “elevator speech” in the corridors of power in Washington DC.
And as Natural Products Association (NPA) members hearing their new boss make his first major speech in Las Vegas last week were told, Shaw knows better than most that trade associations that are effective - and seen to be effective - are the ones that can drive the agenda, frame the debate (before someone else does), and remain on the front foot.
“We have to be on the lookout for bad ideas and bad policies that can creep up in the middle of the night, like we saw with the Durbin amendment last month", said Shaw. "How can we best position ourselves to anticipate and defeat [threats] before they arise?"
As for the media, he said: “We face a constant barrage of media stories questioning the benefits of our products. We must anticipate news cycles and seize teachable moments in the media to drive our overall agenda.”
If you’re not on offense, you’re on defense
Reactive organizations look weak, he added: “My approach to advocacy is simple: if you’re not on offense, you’re on defense.”
And that means the NPA must be at the very center of every debate, he told NutraIngredients-USA on a call yesterday as it emerged that the FDA now plans to re-issue its controversial draft guidance on new dietary ingredients (NDIs).
“Any absence by the NPA in a public policy debate is not acceptable to our members.”
He added: “Any decision maker that takes an action, well-intentioned or not, that might limit access to the American consumer to our products will be met with aggressive action.” (Senator Durbin, you have been warned…)
I’m a true believer
Baseball talk has its place - not least in the dialogue with the FDA over the new dietary ingredient (NDI) draft guidance - says Shaw, but when it comes to engaging with members of Congress and the public, “we must always bring it back to the kitchen table”.
A big fan of yoga, Shaw says his interest in the NPA is personal, as well as political: “I have lived the natural products lifestyle for most of my life and I believe that everyone should be able to make their own personal choices. I’m a true believer.”
He added: “We must defend NPA members and their ability to provide millions of Americans with products that increase their health and wellness, and we absolutely must continue to educate federal decision makers about our industry on a consistent basis.”
But doesn’t the industry deserve some of the negative press it gets? Maybe, says Shaw, but the danger is that the debate over how to deal with unscrupulous players - which you find in every industry - gets hijacked by people with an axe to grind, he says.
“NPA members hold themselves up to the highest industry standards and are always attempting to ensure that one or two bad apples don’t destroy the rest of the batch.
“Many industries are under constant scrutiny by well-intentioned individuals that sometimes might take action that inadvertently causes significant harm to the entire industry when they are just trying to single out one or two bad apples.”
Shaw’s priorities include: “Growing our membership; continuing to advocate for the right of consumers to have access to NPA members’ products; and working with members and allied trade associations to better educate members of Congress about the benefits of our products.”
Public policy expert
Shaw, who began his career as an intern with former Republican congressman James A. Courter, went on to occupy a variety of positions on the presidential campaigns of President George W Bush Jnr and Senator Bob Dole before becoming a public policy attorney at law firm Patton Boggs LLP.
He then joined President Bush's administration as White House liaison and, later, became assistant secretary for environment, safety and health at the Department of Energy before joining the Portland Cement Association as senior vice president of government affairs.
Founded in 1936, the NPA now has more than 1,900 members accounting for more than 10,000 locations of retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors of natural products, including foods, dietary supplements, and health/beauty aids.