When I started working in public affairs thirty years ago, the industry was in its infancy. It attracted an aura of mystique, with little of the openness of today’s political communications. We even avoided using the very word “lobbying” for fear of being tainted by it.
These days, everyone is a lobbyist. Before any move, Government must listen to the views of an extensive stakeholder community expressing a range of opinion and calling for action (or stay of action) one way or another. With so many organisations, interest groups and businesses publicly pleading their case, enhanced by social and a 24 hour media, I sometimes marvel that government manages to take any decisions at all.
Faced with such an array of competing voices, all clamouring for attention at the same time, how can businesses make inroads into the political decision-making process? For the largest of these, name recognition helps and access is relatively straightforward. Others invest time and resource over many years to build working relationships and understanding on both sides. But for those perhaps newer to the market, or faced with a novel issue, the system can appear as difficult to navigate as ever.
In these situations, there are a few guiding principles that can help to ensure a fair hearing and make a compelling case for why government should listen.
- Have something interesting or new to say – don’t intervene just for the sake of it
- Be very clear in what you are asking government to do
- Use your expertise to promote your cause
- Present your proposal as part of a solution
- Align and tailor your interests with those of the people you are addressing
So far, so good. Yet any approach still needs to be backed up by clear evidence, whether in terms of economic value, a successful track record or wider benefits. Why should anyone take a risk of promoting an unknown quantity without some assurance of its worth?
And it’s also the reality that results don’t always happen overnight. Politics is a volatile business and any programme of engagement needs to be agile in response to changing circumstances.
Don’t forget too that government isn’t a single entity. It’s made up of a myriad of different players, organisations and influencers – all with a part to play. Thoroughness and dedication can be valuable commodities when encouraging effective public policy and good decision making.
But most of all, remember that government needs the support and expertise that only business can offer. We all benefit from a regulatory environment that works well. That’s one thing that remains true across the decades.