By Lucy C Cronin – Dublin office
Well-run public policy campaigns can help businesses address problems in their sector, shape their legislative environment, and create commercial opportunities. Yet, executing an effective public policy strategy takes time and craft. Lucy Cronin, a public policy pro, gives a masterclass in the art of lobbying from an Irish perspective.
The key to any effective campaign is a clearly defined objective. Long before you engage with any stakeholders, you must know exactly what you hope to achieve. Clearly understanding your core messages is fundamental in shaping your campaign’s narrative.
To achieve your endgame, you’ll need to understand the playing field. Research is vital – consider how your policies will be received by the legal and political worlds, and whether they align with the government’s current position. You’ll then need to gather the necessary facts to emphasise the benefits of your campaign.
Allies and adversaries
To start, you need a list of key targets to champion your campaign. Obvious candidates will be government ministers with direct responsibility in your area, but there may also be willing targets in other departments across the political spectrum.
Use Oireachtas records and Kildastreet to see who shares an interest in your policy space, particularly those who have written to ministers or asked parliamentary questions on the subject. Equally, you’ll need to know your adversaries – every commercial activity has interested parties on both sides, and you will need to address opponents’ concerns.
Ultimately, you should always look to leverage the democratic process, including competitors and allies – the stronger the voice at the table, the stronger your argument.
Make every second count
Once your research is done, you’ll want to sit down and meet with stakeholder targets. You can’t expect time-pushed TDs to always spare an hour with you, so you need to ensure every second counts and you waste no time in getting your case across.
Knowing your target’s prior knowledge is key – you won’t want to waste five minutes confirming what an experienced civil servant already knows; others, with little knowledge of the policy area, might simply require additional argumentation or precedence to be won over. If you are discussing technical issues, bring an expert staff member to answer the difficult questions. When engaging with a politician, use an opening line that will put everybody at ease.
Many public affairs campaigns are about providing the tools to support policy decisions and solve problems. This takes perseverance and communication. The majority of policy affairs campaigns take 18 to 24 months – you need to be patient and consistently provide useful follow-up information to TDs and government officials when they ask for it.
Leverage local media
In Ireland, you cannot run a successful public affairs campaign without working with all forms of the media, so you’ll need to put pen to paper and create your key media messages to amplify your campaign.
It’s always tempting to target national headlines, but never forget the regional press, which is particularly significant in Ireland, from newspapers and websites to local radio. TDs keep a close eye on the press in their constituency, and local media can uncover otherwise unknown allies.
Always bear in mind some people won’t want to talk to you. Be tactful and avoid public criticism if they decline a meeting. Public affairs about collaboration rather than making enemies. Seek out those who want to hear your side of the story.
There’s a clear definition of lobbying in the Lobbying Act. It’s easy to forget details when caught in the middle of campaign, so ensure you adhere to the rules and avoid penalties by keeping an excel sheet of who you’ve met and what was discussed to make your life easier when filing returns.
If you’re in doubt about whether or not you were engaged in lobbying, file a return anyway or seek advice from the Standards in Public Office Commission.
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Lucy C Cronin is managing partner at Instinctif Partners Dublin. This article was written in conversation with Conor McMahon as part of a series of masterclasses with some of Ireland’s most influential business people.