What Exactly Is Your Issue? Four Tips For Better Lobbying

what's your issueI was on Parliament Hill recently and as my colleagues and I fanned out to share our messages I kept thinking about all the possible outcomes ahead of us.  We had the same message to deliver, but personal style and approach can make subtle changes occur that effect comprehension, reception and even perceived objective. This means that when presenting an idea, the question of knowing EXACTLY what you want is critical.

Whether presenting to government, an interviewer or potential client, it can mean the difference between success and failure.   If you are unclear about your issue, or do not ensure that your audience is clear on what you want, you may find yourself achieving an outcome you didn’t anticipate.  As time management expert Alan Lakein so succinctly put it, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Take for instance the consumer advocate groups that lobbied the Canadian federal government for years on the issue of labelling of cigarette packaging.   They asked government to ban or restrict the word “light” from cigarette packages.  They were concerned that the use of the word would lead the public to think that these cigarettes were somehow not as bad for them as “regular” cigarettes.  In December 2004, then Minister of Health, Ujjal Dosanjh, was pleased to announce that the use of the words “light” and “mild” would be prohibited from use on future cigarette packages. Imagine his surprise, when on hearing his announcement, the various associations in question responded with criticism.  It seems that they were actually using the “light” discussion as an example of the kind of wording they did not want used. As it happens their “ask” was a good deal more complex than the use of one or two words, they were quite legitimately concerned about the use of any language or imagery that might be perceived as misleading, this included the use of numbers or coloring.  Subsequently, they did not see the change as sufficient.

By February of 2005, a grassroots campaign had been launched to tell government that their announced changes hadn’t gone far enough.  The subsequent nature of the relationship between the Minister and the associations following these events can only be speculated on, but needless to say a good deal of engagement would have been necessary to maintain good relations.

Knowing exactly what you want before you initiate anything, from a meeting to a full communications campaign,  provides you with a path. Waiting until you are at a critical meeting or juncture is not the time to to determine what you want. Brainstorming in tight circumstances is unlikely to be productive or successful. Its also likely to lead to frustration for you and those around you.  If you know precisely what outcome you are trying to achieve, you are also in a better position to spot options or opportunities, it gives you the flexibility to take short cuts that will satisfy your objectives. Knowing what you want means you are also in a better position to anticipate how long the process will take and what you will need to do in order to be successful.

When have you planned and succeeded?  Have you been taken by surprise by an outcome? Have you ever failed to plan and subsequently missed an opportunity?


0 responses to “What Exactly Is Your Issue? Four Tips For Better Lobbying

  • I think we have to keep on top of our leaders to ensure that they are held accountable. This situation has happened in a professional assn to which I belong, and the members have stood up and let the leaders know they’re not happy with the direction the assn has been heading. Hopefully, we’ll now see changes in the direction we are seeking.

  • I would say more often than not I will think what the outcome will be and then the consequences and work from there. I find I do that when new legislation has been approved, I will think but what if and how does that outcome effect me. I did that with Affordable Health Care Act. I think if more people were involved in making up the act and thought of the outcome, it would not be the mess it is today

  • I am constantly reassessing and readjusting. The only guidepost I really have is the final outcome. But I have learned from experience that I am pretty horrible at actually planning direct courses to a destination. The best I can hope for is knowing the destination and then figuring out on the way how I want to get there.

  • A very good illustration of your point, Debra! Sometimes you get so focused on one aspect of a proposal or project that you don’t understand that others may perceive it differently. Or you’re so entrenched in subject matter that it doesn’t occur to you that your audience doesn’t understand it at your level!

  • I knew how to plan my curriculum to a tee to achieve the desired results, and I could adjust as needed as I gained experience. Once would think I would go about my writing and editing the same way, but no… lesson learned on that front. Still, making mistakes does tend to be a crucial part of learning what you want. Kind of a vicious circle in a way.

  • Good points, Debra. But when it comes to lobbying it’s mainly about who you know. Who owes you a favour and so forth. Even if you do everything perfectly you will lose if somebody else lobbying for something similar knows the people that take the decision. And what’s even worse is that in many cases, maybe Canada is an exception, kick backs play a huge role, even in the West, unfortunately.

    • Ted Wigdor says:
      November 11, 2014 @ 12:19 pm

      Catarina, I respectfully disagree with your assertion that lobbying is mainly about who you know. That is old school lobbying that is, I hope, no longer prevalent. Lobbying is about understanding your issue and ask, as Debra pointed out. It is also about understanding your audience and their motivation. When speaking with civil servants, one needs to position your request in context that makes sound public policy. When speaking with political officials, it is about placing your issue into the political agenda that got them elected in the first place. At least, that is how lobbying is done in most jurisdictions in Canada.

    • I think knowing people can be useful, but it doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your objectives if you don’t. At least not here in Canada. There are always going to be people who bend rules and get away with influence peddling, but they also get caught and at best their reputations are tanked and at worst they get jail time. They will never set the tone for me or persuade me to give up on my democratic rights.

  • I think, as your illustration clearly shows, that in many cases the group or individual does not even know what the issue is. Rather, they have a sense of it and think of the outcome rather than the process. I’ve always been confused by that way of thinking. What has always worked best for me is thinking backwards! LOL I start with the solution I’m seeking and then walk it back step by step. I’m not sure why, but this process has always allowed be to get a better feel for the issue in general. It also seems to present several “what if” scenarios that I can plan for. I know…I’m probably crazy!

    • I’m with you, working backwards is one of the best ways to figure out what you want. It’s like editing work by reading backwards, just shows you things from a new perspective. 🙂

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