KEY SKILLS OF A LOBBYIST
Insight, not access and meeting set-up, is the lobbyist’s true value
by Tamara Little & Norma Miller
Originally published in “Influencing B.C. – Winter 2016, Volume 6, Issue 2 – Office the Registrar of Lobbyists, British Columbia
“Can you get us a meeting with the Premier?”
This is a request all lobbyists will likely hear at some point in their careers — and it is the request that often gives us the most pause.
Why? Because it hits at the heart of the greatest misconception public affairs professionals face: that successful government relations and lobbying is only about access, that it’s about being able to make a call, get a meeting, and magically all your problems are solved. That it’s about who you know, not what you know.
If only it were that easy.
Not-for-profits, organizations, and businesses achieve their goals through deep understanding of the issue and the policy environment. Meeting with the right people at the right time is definitely part of it. But because it’s government’s job to understand what stakeholders want and need, getting a meeting is not normally the barrier to success.
Understanding government is the more important step. What are their current economic goals? What are the competing pressures on government regarding your issue? What has their history on the issue been? What are other stakeholders saying? What are the legislative and regulatory requirements?
To answer these questions, a lobbyist must do a lot of homework.That’s why understanding government policy is the lobbyist’s real value. A good lobbyist is a good reader. What do we read? Hansard transcripts, legislation, media coverage, policy documents, service plans. Good strategic advisors, in-house or consultant, read it all.
Of course relationships are also key — and that means meetings, but not usually with the Premier, or even a Minister; at least not right away.
It means doing your research first and looking at it through a political lens. Then talking to well-informed, insightful, and experienced stakeholders and officials at all levels within government. Equally important is listening to them (not telling, by the way), then, likely, talking to the Minister responsible, if you haven’t been able to find a resolution along the way.
At the end of the day, knowing the policies, regulations, context, and potential consequences for your organization (or your client) and government are what’s fundamental to effective public affairs. After that, the meeting set up looks easy.
For more information about the Office of Registrar of Lobbyists in BC click here
Tamara Little is President, Public Affairs Association of Canada, BC Chapter
and Vice President, Public Affairs, NATIONAL Public Relations.
Norma Miller is Vice President, Public Affairs Association of Canada, BC Chapter
and Manager of Government Relations, BC Real Estate Association.