There are some lobbying behemoths on the Australian political landscape that always seem to get their way. From the Minerals Council of Australia to the Business Council of Australia these organisations are enormously influential when it comes to shaping policy outcomes and setting the frames of reference in national political debate.
So influential are these lobby groups that in the public imagination, they seem to wield almost mystical power. The name seems to do a lot of the work. But they aren’t conjurers. What some of us forget and others don’t know is that it’s the techniques they deploy that make them successful lobbyists.
These campaign techniques can be successfully used by any organisation, no matter its size. This blog will demystify political lobbying and illustrate how organisation and strategy is key to impacting government policy and funding decisions.
Working out a campaign strategy
Your first port of call is clarifying your goals. Do you want a boost in government funding for service provision, to change laws, to increase research and development budgets, to provide tax-offsets for private investment?
Once your goals are sorted, you need to articulate the benefits of your proposed changes; not just to your organisation, but to the community, economy, government or any other large cohort you can identify. These benefits will then form the basis for the key messages that you will be pumping out to the public through traditional, social, and digital media.
Find stakeholders, partners, experts, and allies
Before creating media releases and social and digital media content you will need to find stakeholders, partners, experts, and allies to support your campaign, or a portion of it.
If you’re asking for more research and development money for the manufacturing industry for instance, you should approach academics, researchers, economists, industry case-studies, peak bodies, or key manufacturers to support your call and to be part of your media release or content.
The wider you cast the net, the more potential story hooks you create and the greater the potential media appeal. Having allies also gives external validation to your claim so that it doesn’t appear to be nakedly self-interested.
Shape or create the debate
Now you’re in a position to create content and begin shaping and cohering public opinion.
You can’t tell people what to think, but you can suggest what they think about by setting the contours and framework of a debate. Use universal themes like choice, fairness, progress, and competitiveness to couch your key messages within. But you also need to get specific and concrete.
If you’re asking for money from government, you won’t be the only one, which makes it essential you articulate a strong community benefit, preferably with some upstream or downstream economic benefit. If we spend X amount early, we save Y amount later, all while getting Z social benefit.
Make your messages easy for the public to understand and repeat. And remember, while you are competing with others for government money or influence, it’s not necessarily groups with the strongest case but those who deliver the most pressure that often get rewarded.
A public conversation
Political lobbying is strongest not when there’s an exclusive, linear conversation between you and government; but when it’s a triangle involving the public.
Having a public conversation about your goal doesn’t mean putting a politician’s feet to the fire from the outset. It’s initially about building public understanding and sympathy for your call-to-action and its broader social and/or economic benefits.
Getting your stories out to the media not only helps find supporters and evangelists for your cause, most importantly it illustrates to politicians that you’re organised and therefore someone they’d prefer inside the tent than out.
Targeted social and digital media
Social media is an invaluable supplement to traditional media. Its function is to build a tribe of followers and supporters and to circulate your material and arguments to the widest possible, or most sympathetic, audience.
The ability to target content and ads at people in specific locations or with specific jobs or interests is a potent weapon when it comes to building a wide platform of support in the public, as is the use of online petitions and landing pages to building a support database.
This can be used to great effect in the lead up to elections. Marginal seats, seats where your issue might resonate, where there are inter and intra-party rivalries; these can be targeted by quite specific and bespoke content designed to help build political support.
Become a Subject Matter Expert in your field
To build long-term heft and influence, you want to develop relationships with editors, producers, and journalists and for them to turn to you as the ‘go to’ subject matter expert in your sector.
Of course the point of all the campaigning is to meet and influence politicians.
That can mean anything from inviting local politicians on site visits (provide them with infographics and reports with key stats), creating a ‘Friends of [your cause]’ group in parliament, organising larger events where politicians can mingle with industry, inviting politicians to provide social media support (video messages, infographics), and of course meetings with politicians whose portfolio covers your area of interest.
There are often several Ministries that your campaign could fit into and it is important to meet with each and not to burn any bridges or close off the campaign if you don’t get the result you’re after initially. Finesse your messaging, boost your social media reach, marshal your forces – i.e. perform a general assessment of the campaign – and return to the fray.
Good Talent Media
Good Talent Media is a full service public relations agency that employs political lobbyists, current and former journalists, and digital media experts that can help you campaign for change in your industry or sector.
Founder and Director of Good Talent Media