How to Win Friends and Influence People
Lobby Like a Pro
By Kate MacDougall
Learning the ropes of lobbying is really a lesson in the art of
influence. An effective lobbyist knows that more important than
what they say, is how they say it - and who they say it to. Public
interest in lobbying has risen dramatically over the last few years.
Government regulations have imposed stricter registration requirements
on organizations seeking to influence government policy. Unless
your lobbying efforts are planned and professional, your voice will
get lost in the crowd of competing interests. Whether you want an
empty lot turned into a neighbourhood playground or you want an
amendment to proposed government legislation, you'll need to learn
how to lobby like a pro.
It may help to think of your issue or concern as a marketing problem
to overcome, rather than simply as information to get out.
You have a point of view which needs to be "sold." As
in marketing, get to know your "market" and your "product."
Use research and focus groups to find out what the public thinks
about your issue. Who are your opponents? Who have they called on
for support? Why are they opposing? What would make them change
their minds? How can you best approach them? Who is on your side?
How can you use their support most effectively? What are your objectives
Collect facts, figures and statistics to arm yourself. Know your
issue backwards and forwards before your campaign begins and you'll
be ready to react quickly and persuasively when opposition arises.
Identifying organizations who might oppose you on
a particular issue is usually quite simple. For instance, the generic
drug Canadian Drug Manufacturers Association has the brand-name
drug Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of Canada as its most
identifiable opponent. However, if it is not so clear who your potential
opponents are, consult a reference guide such as Associations
Canada, the Corpus Almanac, or the Sources
Directory. These directories are also helpful
in identifying like-minded organizations which might support you.
Identifying the precise legislation and level of government you
should approach is essential to planning your campaign. Even the
smallest of issues is governed by multiple tiers of legislation.
S. Sarpkaya, author of Lobbying in Canada - Ways and Means
writes, "From the point of view of the corporation or industry
affected by policy, or lack of policy, it is difficult to know which
level of government is responsible for what; thus, it is difficult
to know where and how to intervene or lobby in the policy process."
To identify which levels of government you need to approach, Sarpkaya
recommends breaking your interest down into parts.
Wetlands, empty lots and whales are not themselves the subjects
of legislation. However, each aspect of these interests may involve
several dimensions, each of may be the subject matter of a specific
piece of legislation or which may be affected by more general legislation.
For example, a forest can be used in a variety of ways; it can
be logged, cleared for a subdivision or power station, or left for
recreation, tourism, wildlife, or anglers and hunters. Find out
what levels of government have jurisdiction over the various dimensions
of your issue. Once you've determined which departments and ministries
are involved you'll want to identify which specific laws affect
your issue and finally who the key decision-makers are.
Once you have established your message and identified your target
"markets," your next step should be to appoint one or
more spokepersons to represent your group. When planning a presentation
to a citizen group, legislators or administrators, you should carefully
consider your most effective spokespersons. Depending on your needs
and objectives there are several possibilities for the position
of advocate. The candidate could be a member of your group, a lawyer,
a public figure, or even a member of an agency that sympathizes
with your cause.
In choosing your advocate you should ask yourself: Is this advocate
the best spokesperson for your cause? Does the advocate know the
history and purposes behind the issues? Can the advocate present
your group's viewpoint in a logical and convincing manner? Is the
advocate sincerely interested in the issue or simply promoting his
or her personal interest? Remember that choosing the wrong advocate
can reflect poorly on your organization and your cause and may attract
When choosing an advocate specifically to be a liaison with government,
you might consider appointing a Government Relations Manager. It
is this person's responsibility to monitor and analyze public policy
issues, assist in developing your group's positions on these issues,
and ideally, develop contacts with decision-makers in the political
and public sectors. This person should understand your group's issue
and the political decision-making process.
Whether or not you have appointed a Government Relations Manager,
it is crucial for your group to understand and follow the passage
of your targeted piece of legislation through Parliament or a legislative
assembly. Both at the federal and provincial level the process is
similar, and follows a set pattern. Knowing when and how, in this
process, to intervene with your lobbying efforts is crucial to your
success (see sidebar).
Once you understand the process of the passage of legislation you'll
see more clearly when and how to intervene. At this point you have
several options. Many organizations opt for postcards and petitions
to legislators, however the sheer volume required to attract any
serious attention is an obstacle for smaller groups. Of much more
impact are well-placed and well-written personal letters. The Earthroots
Coalition offers these rules for effective letter-writing:
1) State your position clearly and identify a specific request.
2) Ask specific, leading questions that require a response.
3) Make it clear you want a response.
4) Send copies to other politicians. Individually address letters
to increase effectiveness.
5) Keep a copy for your organization.
6) Keep writing!
It can be advantageous to write a letter of congratulations when
an MP becomes a minister, or when a minister changes portfolios,
pointing out your concerns as they affect his or her portfolio.
Above all, encourage citizens outside your group to write letters
of their own. Last September the Don't Reading Coalition had a copy
of Parliamentary Names & Numbers on their table
at Toronto's Word on the Street festival. They were using it to
encourage concerned visitors to write their MPs.
The more letters, phone calls, and faxes a politician receives,
the more seriously they will take the public's concern. Earthroots
Coalition says a letter carries the weight of 1000 voters, while
phone calls are worth 100 votes. Faxes can also be effective; we
all know how attention-grabbing a fax machine clogged with incoming
faxes can be.
More public ways of garnering the attention of legislators is to
invite them to participate in your functions - ribbon-cutting ceremonies
and retirement banquets, events you are sponsoring, etc. Invite
them to be guest speakers at your meetings. All of these events
establish positive relationships and open lines of communication
between you and your legislators. Politicians love public exposure
and your organization will benefit from the attention as well.
No matter what techniques you use to gather attention there are
some very important tips to keep you lobbying like a pro:
1) Use the Media. Whatever message you're sending to legislators,
send it to the media as well. Legislators are highly sensitive to
comments by the media. Let the media know what you're up to through
press releases, letters to the editor, advertisements, and phone
calls. Make your media spokesperson, who might also be your Government
Relations Manager, accessible to the media. Responding quickly and
openly to media requests for information and interviews will ensure
that they take you seriously.
2) Use the Opposition. Never underestimate the power of the opposition
parties. For a well-rounded lobbying campaign you must brief the
opposition parties. They welcome input on new legislation and information
you have will help them in preparing their questions and statements
in the legislature.
3) Use the "Public Interest." Remember that governments
see themselves as making decisions on legislation based on what
they view as in the public interest. Whatever your means of communication
- phone calls, faxes, letters, demonstrations - emphasize that your
group's concerns are consistent with the public interest and that
the alternatives are not.
Lobbying plays an important part in Canada's democracy. It influences
governments to take account of a wide range of diverse interests
when making their decisions. Whether a large corporation with a
paid in-house government consultant or a small special interest
group starting a basement letter-writing campaign, lobbying provides
avenues for Canadians to voice their concerns. Lobby effectively
to ensure that your voice is heard.
Kate MacDougall is a Toronto-based freelance journalist and Circulation
Manager for Parliamentary Names & Numbers.
Originally published in Parliamentary
Names & Numbers #7, Spring 1997.
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