Waiting in the lobby
The recent months have given a new meaning to the term “waiting in the lobby” for public affairs practitioners – once a term referring to speaking to politicians on the Parliamentary estate, now a term meaning to wait to be admitted into a Zoom or Microsoft Teams call.
The past few months required the lobbying industry to think on its feet and adapt to the evolving situation around us in order to have cut through with political stakeholders, not only because of the limited bandwidth of government, but also because of the practicalities of not being able to have face to face meetings and access to Whitehall.
However, these changes have created a new opportunity to engage – one that will change the way we operate for the foreseeable future.
We mustn’t just assume that the whole of Whitehall is closed off to engagement – quite the opposite. Government is still keen to focus on its net zero target as well as the promises made to new Conservative voters at the 2019 election, such as the “levelling up agenda”.
Any recovery that comes out of this crisis will have these two agendas in mind. Therefore, delivering for clients requires us to recognise and adapt to the changing landscape and frame key asks in those terms.
The first step change must come from the way we advise clients and ask the difficult questions: Is this the right time to be speaking about this? Are you best placed to be promoting this? How are you treating customers and staff during the crisis? In particular, we must focus on the issues that pertain to this crisis (lack of govt bandwidth, people struggling, etc) and apply them systematically to our advice.
Ensuring clients understand the full complex landscape is important to be able to hone a message to get cut through.
For this reason, engagement must be executed more creatively than previously – with MP offices dispersed and MPs usually working from home, it is important that what is shared with stakeholders is compelling and creative. As we grapple with new ways of working, we must be more innovative in our communication. The bigger the ideas the better – virtual tours, marketing video backgrounds and online roundtables, just to name a few. If they are too big, they can always be scaled back – but it is important to think out of the box to stand out in the crowd.
Furthermore, recent weeks have shown that meetings on online platforms can sometimes prove to be more productive than in person. A strict time limit means participants need to focus on the crux of their asks, whilst also offering a more relaxed environment than in Westminster – conducive to a better discussion. It also helps that neither stakeholder nor client needed to rush around from meeting to meeting but can enjoy it from the comfort of their own home, allowing a more personal approach which can help build relationships.
So, what are my 5 points to lobbying in the new virtual age….
- Ask the difficult questions – How does this help solve governments problems?
- Think of the best way to communicate this and position it to fit into the current landscape
- Focus on your core objective and ‘ask’, do not get side-tracked with ‘nice to haves’
- Offer innovative and flexible ways to communicate – the bigger the better
- Don’t be afraid to suggest something new to someone or a department you have not previously engaged with.
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