Monthly Archives: August 2014

DON’T Increase Awareness

aids ribbon (1)It drives me nuts, because it’s lazy, ineffectual, and wastes money – and I see it at the core of so many marketing/comms plans and strategies: their objective is to “increase awareness” of XYZ.

Not good enough!

I don’t care what the marketing/communication plan is about, if the objective isn’t to change behaviour, then it’s inadequately thought out, inadequately focussed, just inadequate – and quite possibly delivers nothing concrete.  Increasing awareness may be a step along the road, but it’s only an early step: the steps after awareness include motivating, and enabling, changed behaviour.

Lindt* tell you their chocolate is the most satisfying.  They don’t want you to be aware of that – they want you to act on it; their ads don’t just tell you they are the best, they try to give you reasons to act on that assertion.  Then, Lindt make sure their product is accessible and you can readily put your hands on a block of Lindt rather than, say, a block of Cadbury.

Likewise lobbying – businesses can’t justify spending money on mere awareness-raising with Government – there has to be a concrete commercial objective.

Even cause marketing or political marketing/communications should be the same – there should be an explicit or implicit demand for changed behaviour, and, somewhere in the marketing mix, new behaviour needs to be made convenient.

*Disclaimer – I eat quite a lot of Lindt chocolate.

“Why Lobby?” Encore

angry womanOne day you’ll get cranky about something Government has done, or not done.  Or, you’ll want something from Government: attention, a decision, a contract …

Phoning or emailing your local MP or Councillor or public servant, to demand a new playground or immigration policy, rarely works, but I’ve met CEOs of public companies who’ve taken that approach to negotiating major contracts with Government.

Nine times out of ten, if you barrel in without preparation and a plan, you’re not lobbying, you’re floundering; and the answer is going to be “no”.

If the issue is important, you’ll research, take advice, plan, and advocate, because that’s the only way to get what you want.

(This post is further to an earlier answer to the question “Why Lobby?”)

Why Lobby?

Politicians Discussing Global Warming

Politicians Discussing Global Warming – sculpture by Isaac Cordal

Ever heard about a Government decision and said “How on earth did they ….?”

The politicians and public servants who, between them, are responsible for the decisions of Australia’s Federal, State and Local governments, are not perfect; nor are the processes underpinning their decisions.

The processes of public policy-making are supposed to minimise mistakes, but there is plenty of scope for error:

  • a need to act quickly, or inability to act quickly enough,
  • inadequate staff or budget for thorough consultation or research,
  • demands to conform with political beliefs or a Government agenda rather than reflect reality,
  • senior managers or politicians unwilling to modify or be flexible in their approach,
  • senior managers or politicians who are unapproachable or bullies, when receiving advice,
  • senior managers or politicians prepared to toady, in hope of promotion,
  • taking bad advice (e.g. incomplete, tainted, under-informed, self-serving or partial) from trusted sources or competing lobbyists,
  • misjudgement: poorly evaluating risk or poorly weighing competing claims,
  • bad faith or partiality or incompetence on the part of decision-makers,

and so on.

It’s unsafe to presume your most important issue will be addressed optimally by Government, with so many possible sources of error.

So, to minimise risk, you need to be inside the process, ensuring policy is well-made, policy instruments are well chosen, implementation is well planned, governance is effective, and so on.

We all want to see the best possible decisions coming out of Government: think of yourself as part of the quality control mechanism.

(The debate about what constitutes “lobbying” is for another day /blog post!)

Strategy & Delusion


Strategy (Photo credit: Caro’s Lines)

Joseph Kony persuaded his kidnapped child-soldiers that a cross on their chest, drawn in oil, would protect them from bullets.

I’ve recently attended training sessions where trainers have taught young political activists to strategise using systems that are terribly incomplete and inadequate.  Elsewhere, I’ve seen business advisor gurus press under-researched, cookie-cutter and cliché ‘strategies’, onto companies that are struggling to keep going.

With resources always short, social change organisations and businesses of every kind, need to properly plan their way ahead, or they are in trouble.

How do we avoid adopting strategies that aren’t much more than a badly-drawn oily cross?

A few thoughts for testing what’s on offer:

  • The strategy must be consistent with your organisation’s future culture and values, and brand;
  • The process of developing the strategy must be transparent, rigorous, demonstrably logical, and backed by diligent research;
  • The objective at which the strategy is directed must be possible: difficult maybe, but possible;
  • The major elements of the strategy must be both necessary and sufficient, to deliver on that objective: there can be no leaps of faith;
  • The detail of the strategy must reflect all of the most difficult obstacles, and strongest opportunities, that you have identified as laying between where you are and your objective; and
  • Assessments of what’s possible, and what’s necessary and sufficient, must be objective, and reflect the whole of the environment in which you operate – particularly the personal and organisational negatives that so many advisors and strategists are reluctant or unable to articulate.

Is there more?  Are there better tests?

(Originally published on Mike Smith’s personal blog)

Politics: The Art Of The IMpossible!

Otto Von Bismarck

Otto Von Bismarck

We’re often told “politics is the art of the possible”, by politicians and political operatives.

The problem with “politics is the art of the possible” is that it’s both a little bit right, and terribly wrong.  This wrongness is important, because this innocent-seeming aphorism is misused to stifle debate, and kill off change.

As an injunction to only chase what’s achievable, “politics is the art of the possible” (hereinafter “PITAOTP”, because I’m sick of typing it in full) is pretty unremarkable, but that’s never how it is used.  It’s always used, in my observation, to reject something that’s politically unpalatable, not necessarily unfeasible – and “unpalatable” and “unfeasible” are very different from one another.

PITAOTP is always used with a powerful implication that what is being sought is intuitively impossible, hence unreasonable, hence not merely rejected but emphatically never to be considered.

And that’s where PITAOTP is dead wrong – because politics should also be the art of changing what’s possible.  Just dealing with today, and the here-and-now, is only part of the job – our politicians must look to tomorrow, as well.

If PITAOTP actually said “politics today is the art of what’s possible today” it would be unobjectionable – particularly if supplemented by “and politics tomorrow is what’s today invested in”.  (And by invested, I mean much more than just demanded –  identified, evaluated, strategised, advocated, and planned).

To the extent that PITAOTP stops the search for what’s possible tomorrow, and stops us investing time and effort in making our aspirations possible, it’s a (convenient, lazy, dishonest) device for blocking change, and particularly progressive change.

And the politics of the guy who first said it should tell you that, too:

“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable … the art of the next best.”

Otto von Bismarck, August 11, 1867

Politics IS the art of the possible – if your politician aspires to the easy life, the easy half of the job.  For a good politician, politics is the art of making more things possible – the art of making the impossible possible.

(Originally published on Mike Smith’s personal blog)

Lobbying: The Dirty Truth

Dogbert Does LobbyingI’m a lobbyist but I don’t appear overtly evil – I should do, according to some of my lefty friends.  Recent media demonstrates many journalists, too, think lobbying is inherently suspicious.

This suspicion clearly comes from misunderstanding the role of lobbyists.

There are lobbyists who inhabit darkened, smoke-filled rooms, and whisper in the ears of Government “Mate, mate, you’ve got to do a favour” but they are in a minority, because that’s a stupid approach.

That cliché-ed picture leaves a lobbyist and their client in danger of the next decision-maker reversing the favour, or reporting the favour to the Crime and Misconduct Commission.  It’s a short-term, lazy and unethical approach that risks reputational destruction.

We always tell clients that their proposals, the reasons behind them, and the Government decision that delivers them, must be clean, robust, and appropriate – and be seen as such when scrutinised.

When businesses or community groups meet Government, it’s often a bit like a Star Trek episode – landing on another planet that looks the same, meeting people who look the same, but, phasers drawn and fired, finding out that everything is different – the language, the decision-making process, the motivations, the objectives, the pitfalls to progress, and the role of the decision-makers.  Everything.  And both sides are convinced they understand the other.

When Government and business meet, it’s like the Klingons and the Romulans – and I’m Captain Kirk, helping translate differing needs and objectives into a common understanding.  Or maybe more like Spock or that nameless crew-member who gets shot in the third scene – but always striving for common ground.

And that’s where lobbyists spend a lot of their working time: helping restructure what clients are seeking, so those proposals are a good fit with Government – and sometimes we tell clients they can’t get what they want; this process takes up way more time than directly acting as advocates.

It’s about business proposals, and any politics is incidental.

There’s a code of practice for lobbyists (fairly lowest common denominator) but because it only applies to consultant lobbyists and not direct employee lobbyists, it fails to catch most lobbyists.

Most lobbyists are directly employed – by industry peak bodies, unions, environmental groups, churches, and so on – and free from Government regulation and scrutiny.  But that’s another story and a longer blog post!

(Originally published on Mike Smith’s personal blog)