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What makes a great lobbyist?

12th February 2015


Lobbying is a vital part of our modern democracy, as Koray Camgoz, public relations and policy officer at CIPR says: “It is one of the key means by which information can enter the debate from outside the system itself.”

Politicians and policy makers rely on lobbyists for information and different points of view. But to be a lobbyist who they listen to, you must be a highly skilled communicator who knows when to listen and when to speak. Camgoz adds that good lobbyists must be able to make complex issues simple, turning information into clear unambiguous messages. “Lobbyists must be skilled in framing information into arguments and introducing them to the political process at the moment when it will matter most. They know the limits of influence, as well as the most appropriate and effective means of influencing policy.”

It is vital to be thoroughly informed. Francis Ingham, PRCA director general, says: “The person you are lobbying does not exist in a bell jar. There is no vacuum and you are not the only pressure being applied to the situation, so make sure you’ve properly made your case across the political spectrum and throughout Whitehall and Westminster.”

As with all effective communication, you need to think about what your audience wants to know and make sure you give it to them in the format they need. Ingham explains: “MPs care a great deal when you give them something they can really use. Whether it is a planning permission problem, a charity health campaign or a reputational push on your client’s contribution to the economy, give them research, insight and human angles they will actually care about and can use in their job.”

“If they’re really going to take your views on board, they’ve got to be able to justify them in the Commons, in the media and to their constituency.”

“Most of all – they remember bad lobbying. It’s not too much to ask to double-check that the figures you’re sending are relevant to the MP; it’s not too difficult to make sure it comes from a senior spokesperson; and it’s certainly not too much to ask to make sure you actually address the person properly, as Sir Peter Luff MP reminded us at a recent event.”

In order for politicians to get a fair and balanced spread of opinions, they need to speak to a wide range of people. Jon McLeod, chairman, corporate financial & public affairs at PR firm Weber Shandwick, calls for greater diversity amongst lobbyists: “What the public affairs industry desperately needs is diversity. We deal with issues in public life, so it is essential the profession is reflective of the society it is seeking to serve. I’ve said this in the past and I’m happy to say it again: we really can’t just have dragoons of young men in crumpled suits smelling of last night’s nightclub filling the posts. We need to have practitioners who reflect all backgrounds and all communities.”

Top three lobbying tips

Suggested by Luc Delany, founder of communications consultancy Delany & Co:

1.  Be empathetic. Rather than going in all-guns-blazing for the position you are promoting, approach every meeting or communication from the perspective of the person you are lobbying. Nine times out of ten you will have requested the meeting, they will be under no obligation to listen to you, and will already have had every man and his dog trying to push their own position. So, be empathetic. Acknowledge and try to understand their position, even if it’s the opposite of yours. Figure out what motivates them and how coming round to your position will work for them and their own stakeholders.

2.  Be patient. Lobbying is a marathon not a sprint. You are fairly unlikely to get a “win” from one meeting or letter. This means you have to build long-term relationships, ensuring that even if your target doesn’t immediately adopt your position, they at least understand it and you have their respect. People, organisations and situations change and your patient work may well bear fruit.

3.  Be modest. If you do succeed in getting a key stakeholder onside, don’t claim it as your own victory. Remember, diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way!



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