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Lobbying on Your Reputation

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

If you are planning to talk to politicians, your message has to be “in sync” with the political climate and also with the reputation of your organisation. Doing this successfully means incorporating a clear-eyed self-awareness assessment into the planning process - here are a few tips on how this can be done.

Having an objective view of how your organisation or sector is perceived from the outside is not as easy as it sounds. It is human nature to see oneself in a good light - as one of the “good guys”- but the fable of “the Emperor has no clothes” is so popular precisely because it highlights our weakness in being self-aware.

Getting it wrong is to risk being ignored or, at worse, pilloried; as happened last month when the “on-line” industry called for a year’s delay in paying the UK’s new Digital Services Tax. The timing was awkward – with estimates of tens of thousands of high-street shop closures in the news as a result of the lockdown, it was hardly the time for on-line companies to be calling for a tax break. On top of which, the sector has a reputation for paying very little tax. The call to delay a 2% tax was never going to ‘fly’ politically; and showed both a misreading of the political climate and a lack of awareness of how the sector is perceived.

How do you ensure your messages are ready to go public? Is there a proverbial “little boy” who will shout “You have no clothes on!” in your planning process?

Step 1

When planning your campaign, start with an analysis of the political situation – mapping out who is making the decisions and when; and who else matters in the debate, such as parliamentarians, industry bodies, activist groups and academia.

Step 2

Do a SWOT analysis – make a four-squared grid labelled Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, and make your input in bullet points. This is a useful and commonly used analytical technique, but to make it really work for self-awareness input the Weaknesses and Threats first, gathering the bullet points from outside sources, whether you agree with them or not. Outside sources include press articles, commentary from activist groups and parliamentary debates. Inputting them first is a useful technique to encourage you to look at your situation from the outside.

Include an assessment of your organisation’s and your sector’s reputation – it may figure as a strength as well as a weakness. And include the values of your organisation: is it ethical, is it hardnosed, is it socially aware, or environmentally aware? Or other?

You may be thinking that these are the “soft” aspects of your business. They are, but they are important in political debates and count for more than the “hard” measures of performance like cashflow, technical prowess and management organisation.

Step 3

Test your key message and points – do they really respond to external opinions – as listed in your Weaknesses and Threats from your SWOT above? Adapting your message and points to external opinion is a better idea than simply dismissing the views you do not like.

Step 4

When you have prepared and agreed on your message and key supporting points, imagine reading them in tomorrow’s newspaper. Do you feel that your messages will “stand up” and be well-received? Even better, ask for the reaction of someone outside your immediate decision-making circle. This is a good “reality check”.

People within an organisation should have a firm grasp of its values, but having the self-awareness to see how the organisation and its values are actually perceived from the outside is more difficult. During this awful period of Covid-19 the pressure is heightened on all organisations to be totally in touch with wider society – and in a genuine manner. These process steps will help.

Darcy Nicolle is CEO of Political Solutions and author of “The Secret Art of Lobbying” the essential business guide to winning in the political jungle. Learn more

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