How to Win Friends and Influence People
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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 and expectations?

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 negative attention.

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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