I was recently set the challenge of describing how best organisations can prepare for engagement with policy makers, especially politicians, to ensure that it is effective.
My comments were made in a discussion about ‘When Business Meets Politics’ for the British Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic that I took part in with Václav Nekvapil, Managing Partner, of the CEC Group.
This blog is based on some of the comments I made.
Where to start
We must keep in mind the benefits of public affairs and lobbying, for all of us. We are certainly trying to influence public policy but anyone engaging with Government is trying to do that. It leads to better, more informed, decision-making. So always maintain a focus on your outcome and think about what it is you are trying to achieve.
So, we consider what we want from the interaction but also, we need to think about what the audience is after. That means understanding your audiences both internally and externally. To be good at lobbying, we need to work with others, it is a relationship business. That could be with internal colleagues – policy, commercial, sales, legal, regulatory, marketing, corporate communications – but externally as well – political civil servants / officials but also partner organisations. It’s also about gathering viewpoints and positioning yourself, either collaboratively or leading the debate.
When you have identified our audiences, you can then focus on building and maintaining those relationships. You need to know what makes them tick, what their drivers are, their timetables and processes are. What are the pressures that they are under?
We must remember that we are also dealing with reputations, which is critically important. Organisations often overlook the impact that politicians can have on a reputation. They have the power to change laws and regulations, but they also have a public profile and a following.
Critically politicians need to show that they are doing something. Why? Because unlike any other stakeholder audiences, they have to stand up and put themselves forward for election. They either need to have achieved something during their time in office or have a plan for how things will change if they are elected to office.
Lessons for interaction
What does that mean for the interactions we need to have?
It means that your organisations need to take its reputation seriously. Taking the example of ESG (Economic, Social, Governance) considerations; it’s not just about high level aims to be Net Zero, it’s about paying tax, looking after workers, these types of very practical matters that are important to politicians. Get this wrong and politicians won’t want to engage. Why would they? Your poor reputation bleeds across into theirs, it damages their electoral prospects.
It also means ensuring that you have a developed and informed network, not an under-informed network who don’t know who you are or a misinformed network listening to others. That sort of environment leads to adverse comment and actions. That applies to all the networks, political and others. Part of your thinking around networks and keeping them informed also need to consider organisations and individuals that will stand up for you.
We must also remember our ethics. Following the law is must but it’s also thinking about voluntary codes as well especially for those who don’t have lobbying laws in place.
Certainly, in the UK, the most recent example of bad lobbying, which has had a reputational impact, has been from former Prime Minister, David Cameron. So, ethics in this context are not just about good behaviour but recognising the impact that poor behaviour has had as well.
You can access a recording of the full session here.