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How to build communications that move policymakers

Blog date

09.08.2019

Author

Kerry Gould
Associate Director

If you aim to be a voice for your industry, influencing policymakers is a big part of this – whether it’s MPs, committee members, or any other stakeholder involved in law change or government spending.

Communications have a key role to play in your lobbying efforts, both directly and in ensuring your activities are appreciated by those who stand to benefit.

People are predisposed to value those that explicitly represent their best interests. And to boost your policy team’s chances of provoking the desired changes, it pays to implement a joined-up communications strategy that supports their aims.

So where do you start?

Based on years of experience supporting businesses and professional membership organisations make their recommendations heard at the highest levels, we’ve devised a starter plan that’s relevant for both central and local government.

1. Establish clear objectives

Being ‘joined-up’ means knowing precisely what you want to achieve at each stage of your lobbying journey. From a standing start, a typical public affairs campaign can be divided into four phases.

  • Boost brand profile among policymakers
  • Win support for your organisation’s aims
  • Feed research or insight into critical debates
  • Influence direct policy change

2. Know your audience

Your audience can be broken down into three rough areas, policymakers, media influencers, and your industry. All have a crucial role to play.

We can make a few broad assumptions about policymakers, and these need to be incorporated into your thinking. They’re busy. They aren’t specialists in your area. They also probably face conflicting advice and opinions on the issues you’re interested in.

Targeted messaging is particularly effective when dealing with MPs. So, with targets in mind, you can look for ways to personalise your message. For instance, find out how many businesses in their constituency would be impacted by their failure to take your message seriously.

Another safe assumption is that policymakers are influenced by the media, so links with trade and national press (which should be nurtured anyway as a matter of best practice) are key. Media coverage raises your issue on policymakers’ agenda, while also sending up a flare to your industry, highlighting your efforts on their behalf.

Because while your grass-roots audience are both the beneficiaries and, ultimately, the target of your lobbying activity, they can also be a useful source of political pressure when mobilised to support a campaign directly. For instance, by contacting their MP, backing a cause on social media or signing a petition.

3. Don’t miss anything

Set up effective monitoring of the relevant political environment, calendars and conversations, to ensure you aren’t blindsided by policy events happening outside of your radar. These events, like a contentious all party debate or select committee report, are opportunities to advance your public affairs strategy.

Your reaction needs to be advanced and strategic, rather than reactive and tactical (and panicked).

4. Clarify your message

These are the key questions:

  • What is wrong?
  • What needs to happen?
  • Who needs to act?
  • How does their thinking need to change?

The messaging needs to incorporate the consequences of both action and inaction and carry a crystal-clear call to action.

What do you want? Say it clearly, for instance, here are some examples of doing it really well:

“Investment association calls for greater transparency on dividends.”

“Soil association calls for compulsory meat-free school meals.”

“CBI demands business rate reform.”

The messages you develop will change as your campaign progresses through its various phases. In the beginning, focus should be on the emotive nature, severity and urgency of the problem. While later, more detailed evidence and justification for your proposed solution will be required.

5. Make it personal

We already acknowledged that policymakers are busy people. Public life is a gauntlet of pressurised information gathering, often in highly charged political atmospheres. To achieve communications cut through in this environment both with policymakers and the media, it pays to get creative.

You know a lot about your chosen issue. You have hard evidence, statistics, predictive reports; all of which is vital, but to cut through you need to bring it all to life with a compelling story.

The most compelling stories are about people. You’ve chosen to represent your industry on this issue because it affects real people. Who are these people? What are the consequences for them, both professionally and personally?

A personal story that illustrates the real impact of the problem can put flesh on the bones of your data in a way that a pie chart never will.

Seek expert advice

At Speed, we have a long history of delivering big effective campaigns to help organisations provoke change around important political and societal issues.

To find out more about how to build a campaign with real momentum, or speak to one of our experts about your own policy ambitions, contact us.

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