21 things and more to consider before you set up your lobbying office in Brussels

Recently a friend asked about setting up their organisation in Brussels.  I came back with 21 things to take into account.
  1.   Only set up in Brussels  as a lobbying shop. K Street is only in DC for a reason. Belgium is not cheap.
  2.  Use the following technology and services: Fiscal note (or evernote if your budget is smaller), Vote Watch and EU Issue Tracker. Artificial Intelligence  will make your job better. Use it.
  3.  Before you do anything  use vote watch. They’ll tell you who your winning coalition is.
  4.  Stay out of the office and meet people. Fiscal note allows you to run a war room online.
  5.  Your lobbyists are not bureaucrats so hire only good lobbyists with a real track record. They are hard to find.
  6.  80/20: spend your money on campaigns and winning votes and not on bricks and mortar staff.
  7.  Use experts when needed but you don’t need them on staff. Or have them back in the HQ.
  8.  Location, location, location – it really counts. The Norwegians know it, they are next door to the Commission HQ.
  9.  Know the rules, keep up with the changes, and understand how they really work. Very few lobbyists do.
  10.  Stop wasting your time preaching to the converted win over the switchers
  11.  Your job is to win majorities  so don’t waste your time appeasing your allies. If you spend your time saying what your organisation says to itself, you are likely to lose.
  12.  Know the rules of procedure for the various legislative procedures. It is shocking that  only a few people seem to.
  13.  Only a few people really make the key decisions, so know they are, and who advise them. Adapt your language and message to what will appeal to them. Again, it is amazingly effective.
  14.  Work with the press, be seen as the  first port of call for comment, analysis, and background. Answer their calls. Try using plain English.
  15.  Avoid internal meetings like the plague. We live in a world where a  good laptop, data connection, can have you and your team as remote nomads. Your job is to meet and win votes and not take minutes in internal meetings.
  16.  Data doesn’t lie so use  it. Just because someone says they can back you, doesn’t mean they’re going to. If you look at how they voted on the same  or similar issue in the past, all too often the truth will be revealed.
  17.  Keep the mother ship fully informed 24/7.  They are paying the bills, so send them plans, regular reports, and answer their calls whenever they call.
  18.  Focus on a few key things and don’t try and be the master of everything. No-one is going to believe you’re the best at everything.
  19.  Make sure that your lobbyists are experts in a few fields.  Have point people to work  with the Parliament, Council, Perm Reps and the Commission.  Make sure your lobbyists are team players,  versatile when needed, and most of all like people. A  good lobbyist must work across political and national lines. It helps if they have served their time inside one of the institutions, but avoid political placement, or  a stagaire,  who in my experience mainly specialised in advanced privileged partying.
  20.  Make sure the lines of communication and accountability in your organisation do not cross and are clear. If your office  spends most of its time competing with the mothership or affiliates about who does what,  something is seriously wrong.
  21. You’re a lobbying shop for your organisation. Your job is to clearly communicate with politicians and civil servants. The ability to speak, listen and write clearly is vital. I place the ability to “listen” at the top. A politician and civil servant will tell you everything you want if you really listen.

I have received some good suggestions from readers. I have added them below and added my comments in italics.

22.  Know why you are in Brussels and focus. Set regulatory/legislative/policy/political objectives that will support your organization’s strategy and focus your tactical efforts on these. This makes a lot of sense to me. A lot of organisations try to be all things to all men and their identity becomes very foggy.
23. Be able to adapt. If your “best case scenario” objectives turn out to be unreachable, you must be able to work on the basis of a second best or third best scenario. Makes a lot of sense to me. I always plan on the basis of the reasonable worst case scenario. Even on 1 May 1997 I thought Labour would not win a working majority.