Can lobbying be simplified?



I have just read Richard Koch’s ‘Simplify‘. He describes how companies who are prepared to simplify their product or service offering reap remarkable returns. IKEA, Ryanair, and the  Boston Consulting Group all took the step and are doing very well.

Firms can either price simplify, usually cutting their prices by 50-90%. Or firms can  proposition simplify, by creating a product or service that is useful, appealing and very easy to use.  IKEA has done the first, Apple the second.  Interestingly, you can’t do both.


Services Don’t Need to Be Complex – A KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) Model

Boston Consulting Group simplified strategic consulting for the C Suite.  BCG supplied a simple, universal model that was applicable to any business or industry. It was so clear and made so much sense that industry leaders called them in to simplify their companies. NGOs like Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and WWF are now using them.


Can Lobbying Be Simplified?

Why does the service of influencing the EU or  any government seem so complex, when it is not.

Lobbying,  or the service of persuading politicians and civil servants, of your client’s or cause’s interest, is when it is chunked down simple.

A model could be created that chunks lobbying down to its key constituent parts, namely:

  • Process
  • People
  • Values

Process – are you following the right maps?

I guesstimate there around 50 main procedures for the adoption and passage of legislation in Europe. I have written on several of them before.

If you work on certain specific regulated area, for example chemicals, there are additional procedures.

I see these procedures as maps. If you have the wrong map, the chance of getting to where you want to be goes down a lot. But, for some reason, people seem very reluctant to show the map on how to get to the end point.

Sometimes, people don’t even seem to realise that the map they are using is for the wrong journey.  I have met people who want to use the same trusted map for ordinary legislation when the journey they are embarking on is for delegated legislation. At first glance, there may be similarities, but if you look a little more in detail, you’ll quickly see that the map needed is very different.


People Matter

It seems to be a surprise to some, but there are people behind the proposals, votes and adoption on any law. If you are not persuading the right people, at the right time, the chance of you winning goes down dramatically.

Fortunately, law making in the EU is very open. It is not hard to find out the names of the Commission officials dealing with a file, let alone the politicians. The officials names are easy enough to find out, and the politicians contacts details and their involvement in an issue on the public record. Tracking down the Member State officials dealing with the file in Brussels and at home is trickier, but it can be found.

I guesstimate that on any legislative file there are now more than 250 people in Europe who will decide. I used to think it was 500 but have revised it downwards with time. Finding out the names is not too hard, if you know your area.

The key thing is to know who the key decision makers and influencers are in reality. There are usually a few unknown key players who Presidents, Prime ministers, Commissioners, and politicians will turn to and ask them how to vote. The trick is knowing who they are.

In the Juncker Commission, a lot of key decisions land up in the hands of a few people. If you speak to them early enough you may well find things going in the right direction for you.


Values – Are you speaking their value language

I am forever amazed how often people will pitch an issue to a politician or civil servant that totally ignores the likely values of the person they are speaking to. I have witnessed total train wrecks of meetings were companies explained to a socialist politician they had to do something because otherwise a huge and very profitable multi-national may have their profits impacted. NGOs sometimes try the same technique and reason to the same politician that it matters not if all of europe would deindustrialize, and harm many trade union jobs, if a rare grass was perhaps saved.

If you have the right map and know the right people, and then throw the meeting and you case away by accidentally making the politician or civil servant angry and against your case,  you have done your interests a great disservice.

It does not have to be that way. You can read Chris Rose’s “What Makes People Tick” if you want to learn to easily make your case resonate with your audience. Some people can of course do this naturally, but there are still a lot of train wrecks.


What you Don’t Need

You don’t need to know as much as your client on their issue. You need as much as the politician or civil servant needs to know and turn what your client wants to say into language that makes sense to decision maker. I remember getting a call from a Head of Cabinet to welcome me to a new position. He said he realised someone new was in place because he and the Commissioner could for the first time understand what the organisation was asking for. I had removed the scientific jargon and banished equations from the letter. They were left in the technical annex which was discussed by the Commission’s technical experts, but not the Commissioner or his Head of Cabinet. And, to this day, I have now idea what the equations mean.

Other useful things for the journey

 Of course, your case has to make sense, and you need to deliver the actions. Many journeys in lobbying fail because people don’t take a step forward, or only start walking when the process has gone too far.

Having a guide, or shepherd, to show you the way can be useful. But, maybe the guide/shepherd may simplify the process so much that they produce an app to help you on the journey, or just be available by skype if you have any questions.

I guess I better go and draw some more maps .

Why fuck you is never a great lobby strategy

I like Lilly Allen’s music. There is a refreshing honesty to the lyrics of Fuck You. Much though I like the song, I would not adopt the sentiment of “Fuck you (fuck you).Fuck you very, very much” as a lobbying strategy.

But, I realize I am an exception, and the  “Fuck you (fuck you), Fuck you very, very much” school of outreach seems to be en vogue at the moment.

NGOs and industry all seem to be getting into the mood and writing what amount to Lilly Allen’s words to the European Commission when the Commission don’t do what others would want them to do. If it works, please let me know.


Old School

Personally, I go for a more-old school approach.

I’d recommend that anyone who is in the business of persuasion read Robert B. Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. It is a classic.

After reading that, you may opt for a different style.

I prefer some clearly novel approaches, such as:

  1. Does the writing pass the 7 pm on a Friday evening test – can what you wrote be understood in one read through by a non expert
  2. Civility
  3. Provide solutions to their problems – even if you disagree with the end game
  4. Provide feed in from genuine experts, and if you can show they are incorrect based on their own game rules even better
  5. If you disagree with their decisions, don’t take it out on the officials personally

I learned from many years working for them, that officials and politicians have long memories. There is no reason to be rude to them; if you are constructive and civil, they may one day come around to promoting your position.

I have no fear that my novel approach will catch on.

What is your blueprint for delivering your policy goals?

In every piece of law I have worked as a political adviser, regulator, campaigner or lobbyist you ask yourself how to get from where you are to where you want to be in a given time period.

For example, in air pollution, what amounts to air quality that is ultra safe, means the total industrialisation of Europe overnight, no carbon based transport and carbon based transport. Ah, and even then you are no where near where you need to be anytime soon.

In 1997, that was seen as too radical. As my politician had no idea on how to get to those levels, without rather large changes, less ambitious, but safe and deliverable levels were aimed for. Many were  met.


And, there was the realisation in the back of the mind that the major changes needed would kill a lot more people than would ever hypothetically be saved. Fortunately, Europe backs, as a general rule, risk regulation, and not hazard based regulation.

So, a responsible politician or regulator works out what is technically feasible, what is likely to happen, and set rules in place to help that happen.

No responsible politician or regulator sets standards that are, in reality, better than natural levels of air pollution, or impossible to achieve today or anytime soon.

Even the most progressive politicians I have worked for see that as ga ga , and ushers the tin foil brigade out the room. I was lucky Learning that lesson in 1997. So, I will always walk in with a feasible and costed plan that can deliver. It tends to be copied by politicians and regulators.

I find if people don’t walk in with plans, which are clear and written down, are politely ushered out after a short period of time.

It’s what good politicians and regulators want and if it’s what they want, give it to them.