Squeaky Wheel’s “Lobbying 101” series of posts are designed to provide insightful background and practical advice to individuals, companies and community groups who aim to influence government policy and/or decisions.
The author, Darren Brown, is a Western Australian-focussed political commentator and registered lobbyist who draws on his experiences as a professional advocate and more recently, Ministerial Chief of Staff. Darren’s observations are provided in his trade-mark, but often unpopular with his employers, blunt and quirky style. He always welcomes equally blunt and quirky feedback, but please keep it civil.
How aggressive should a lobbying strategy be?
At the risk of sounding like a politician, this is a complicated question because every situation is different. However there are a few tips I can provide that might help guide you.
Firstly, when developing your lobbying plan it’s important to take a holistic view of the situation – try to think about winning the ‘war’, not just this battle. Depending on the issue, it might be strategically better for you to be passive and sacrifice a small debate in order to win an advantage in a much bigger one. There’s definitely a place for aggressive tactics in lobbying governments, but as with many things in politics, it’s all about the timing.
More practically, when I’m developing a strategy to influence for a client, I apply two golden rules:
- ALWAYS start by playing nice, without exception
- Constantly evaluate your risk-return ratio
While it’s popular to believe politicians are all over-fed, narcissistic power-mongers, the far less sexy truth is that most of them are actually pretty decent, average people.
This is very important because knowing that most politicians are just normal people means you can appeal to them using the same hopes and fears that we all share. Just like you, many of them enjoy feeling like they are doing something positive and hate being humiliated or trapped in no-win situations. Also be generous; bear in mind that they have a lot on their plates and probably don’t know every detail of the issues that you’ve dedicated your time to – even if you have previously sent them a 400 page letter explaining it.
Golden rule number one - start by putting your frustrations aside, then respectfully and courteously explain to the person (not the position) what your problem is and how they could make it better. Give them an honest chance to get it right well before you show your teeth. Remember, plenty of stray dogs get fed with nothing more than a friendly wag of their tail. If they always approached people with an aggressive growl, they would no doubt eventually starve.
Having said that, there are certainly times when you might be forced to use more aggressive tactics such as prompting the interest of the mass media or parliamentary opposition. But be warned, these types of strategies come with big risks and should be used only after you’ve ‘wagged your tail’ in every possible friendly way.
Hence the second golden rule – before you adopt an aggressive lobbying tactic, make sure you are comfortable with the likely fallout if it all goes terribly wrong. Constantly evaluate whether the possible benefits of a successful outcome are worth the risks if you fail. Your time, energy and reputation are valuable commodities so if this particular issue isn’t really important to you, it could be time to let it go and walk away.
However, if you are sure that you have nothing left to lose or what you do have to lose is so large that the risks of defeat are worth it, plan your attack carefully, brace yourself for a rollercoaster ride like you’ve never had before - then go hard. Whether you win or lose the battle, your willingness to stand up and challenge the status quo will deliver stronger, more relevant public policy for us all.
Thanks for your interest and future participation.
For other posts in this series, click on the “Lobbying101” label on the right-hand side. To be notified when new posts appear, subscribe to this blog or follow @_Darren_Brown_ on Twitter