Crash course in: Lobbying

There's a new bunch in power at Westminster and you don't know any of them. What do you do?

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Meanwhile, there are a couple of thorny issues cropping up that could either prove to be to your advantage or a serious setback. So what are you going to do about it?

Think ahead. If you waited until election night to make overtures to the Tories and Lib Dems, you're already behind the game. 'Your ongoing strategy should be to talk to all relevant parties,' says Iain Anderson, chair of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations' government affairs group. 'The coalition could fissure in a year's time, so it's important to build long-term relationships even when a party is in opposition.'

Identify a need. 'It's essential your lobbying activity is tied to your overall business strategy,' says Anderson. 'Politicians won't have time for you if you are simply wanting to raise your corporate profile. The first thing they will ask is: what do you want me to do?'

Focus on policy. 'Policy takes years to formulate and if you engage early on you can be remarkably effective,' says Lionel Zetter, public affairs consultant and author of Lobbying: the art of political persuasion. 'Legislation has a very limited timetable, with limited opportunities to change things, and firefighting often doesn't succeed.'

Line up your target. Stakeholder mapping is crucial to identifying who you need to make contact with. 'You need to know who the key decision-maker is and who are the key opinion formers he or she listens to, whether they be advisers, civil servants or other ministers,' says Zetter. 'Civil servants are the real experts; if you can get the ear of the right person, you may not need to see the minister.'

Understand the system. Learn how politics works, how policy is made and how it shapes regulation as well as new laws. The Industry and Parliament Trust (ipt.org.uk) runs study programmes and seminars to educate business leaders in these areas, including workshops at the House of Commons.

Look at the big picture. 'You should be looking for solutions that support everybody,' says George Hutchinson, managing director, public affairs at Burson-Marsteller. 'If you ask for something that would only benefit you, you will get short shrift. Government has to work for society as a whole.'

Be useful. 'You can save the Government embarrassment by pointing out the pitfalls and unintended consequences of planned legislation,' says Zetter. You may be able to conduct research that the Government or the Opposition doesn't have the resources to.

Be transparent. 'You should always be clear about who you are and why you are making this argument,' says Hutchinson. 'What is the vested interest you are representing?'

Do say: 'Dear Minister, we have made a detailed study of the options and have identified some significant risks and opportunities which we would like to present to you.'

Don't say: 'Fancy a weekend's grouse shoot? We can re-formulate your policy and talk about that party donation at the same time.'

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