Mehran Khalili provides some essential tricks of the trade in the lobbying world that will help any campaigner achieve their goal more effectively
I find the idea of sitting in front of a decision maker, wearing your lucky tie, asking them to do the right thing, incredibly boring.
Yet as a militant tactic it is powerful. You can spend weeks organizing a street protest that is not progressing. And then, in a 20-minute meeting, you say the right thing at the right time to the right person in power, and with the stroke of a pen you get what you want. It seems crazy, even unfair. But as businesses around the world know, it works.
It’s lobbying, AKA advocacy, AKA trying to influence decision makers.1 And whether you write a letter to someone in power or sit down with them in person,2 every militant citizen should know how to do it.
I spent three years working in Brussels for NGOs whose core business was lobbying. And ten others advise similar organizations as a consultant. Here is everything I know about how to be a good lobbyist. And a few things I’ve picked up since.
Most citizen activists just say what they want. A real lobbyist goes further.
Whether it’s a speech, a letter, a document that you distribute at a meeting, it doesn’t matter… it takes three elements. WHAT, WHY and HOW.
WHAT are your requests, your title “request”. State them clearly. Make them measurable.
The WHYs are arguments for your WHATs. They show the decision maker that giving you what you want benefits their, too.3 Every WHAT should have at least one WHY to back it up.
How do you develop the WHY? Think first about the decision maker’s pressure points. Like: to save taxpayers money; to be re-elected; seem to care; or to honor public commitments.
Then, with some basic research, find a set of WHYs for your requests that offers the decision maker something from that list. And articulate those arguments convincingly.
Build your WHY from facts, solid sources. Use links, footnotes, citations – this is where you’ll sound like an expert on your problem. Again, use simple, unemotional language. Show, don’t tell.
HOW? ‘OR’ WHAT
The HOW are steps to achieve your requirements. They are a proposed path for how the decision maker could law.
By including HOW, you show the decision maker that your demands are achievable and realistic. In an ideal world, the decision maker could just hand your document to an assistant, point to the HOW, and say “make it happen – just follow these steps.”
HOWs can get technical. They should refer to items in the decision maker’s policy toolbox. So to develop good ones, it’s best to have someone on your team who understands politics and politics.
Address your audience
A few notes on how to communicate with the decision maker:
- Before making your demands, find out about the decision-maker and the system in which they work. Make sure what you are asking for is within his power.4
- Position yourself as an equal partner with the decision maker. If you encounter them, act like one and dress accordingly. You weren’t begging for anything – they are benefit from your expertise. And you give them the chance to exploit their interaction with you for political gain.5
- Project a broad footprint, based on the decision maker’s pressure points. Is the person sensitive, for example, to high-income women voters in their constituency? Then note that you have a mailing list full of these people, and several influencers from this community on the speed dial. Don’t lie, but embellish. It’s the sale.
- Be human, but avoid drama and outrage. For the decision maker, the interaction is a transaction. Treat it as such.
- Consider the timing. Just before a key vote, for example, this can be a strategic time to voice your demands.
- If you meet the decision maker in person, let them do the most talking. Ask them for their perspective on your issue. Establish common links.
- Conclude the interaction with “Where are we going?” If it’s a meeting, leave the decision-maker with a take-home document containing the three items above.
- And document the meeting so you have PR material (video/photos) for your campaign. Ask first.
- Then follow up with the decision maker and stay in touch. Treat the interaction as the start of a relationship. It’s likely you’ll be doing this for a long time before things go your way.
To be a smart lobbyist, don’t just tell a decision maker what you want. Do your homework, explaining how acting on your requests is beneficial their. And break down the steps they might take.
Treat the interaction as a transaction. You offer your research, your arguments, the possibility for the decision to say that they met you. In exchange for them to get closer to your position.
And always present yourself as an equal partner. Which, for the purposes of the transaction, is exactly who you are.
1: A friend was a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry in Brussels. When people asked her what she did, she simply said “sales.” She wasn’t wrong.
2: Maybe they invited you to a meeting because other tactics in your campaign plan caught their attention. Maybe you introduced them for a meeting. Or maybe you just send them a public letter. There are several ways to do this, but they are all lobbying.
3: Lobbying, like media relations, is really just agenda mapping. It’s important to go beyond “why you want it” or “why you think it matters”.
4: This precedes the common response “I’d love to help, but it’s outside of my remit.”
5: I’m not BSing here. At every lobbying meeting I have attended, the decision maker has documented this as well. Being able to say “I have been in contact with civil society on this issue” has more political value than you might imagine.
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