Connecting with Decision-Makers

meetingWhat’s the best way to get your story to decision-makers?  Might as well ask “How long is a piece of string?”

The answer is different for every individual, for every issue, for every process.

So, you can’t just do the first thing that comes to mind – you have to research it, think about it, and plan it.

If your decision-maker is a politician, you might ask for a meeting or send a letter, or ask your local Member of Parliament to make representations on your behalf, or launch a petition, advertising campaign or protest movement.  But there are plenty of circumstances in which each of those can be counter-productive.

Never forget that in many cases it is easier to have an initial discussion with their staff than with a politician.

Because politicians often make decisions, small and large, by endorsing the recommendations in a briefing note or minute from their Department, the real decision might happen when a mid- or junior-level public servant decides what to recommend, which options to offer, and what to leave out of the briefing.

Or, your decision may rest with the public service rather than a politician – and getting information to public servants can be tricky.  You can try for a meeting, but many will resist – they’re generally under no obligation to meet with every stakeholder.  Staff in agencies that aren’t used to dealing with the public or stakeholders are much harder to connect with.

As a rule public servants will read relevant correspondence, even long material – but you must keep it focused, structured, minimalist, relevant, balanced and clear – i.e., persuasive.

Often, the biggest hurdle you’ve initially got is identifying the criteria they use for deciding a recommendation*.  The best way to get that is via a discussion, and often the best way to have a discussion is through being referred – e.g., it is very helpful to be able to say something like “The Minister’s office told me that you are the person to talk with about XYZ – can I come and see you?”

Once you know those criteria, effectively shaping your information and message becomes much easier.

Many businesses launch a program of continuous engagement with Government, so they are already networked with key decision-makers before they need to talk with them.  Alternatively, some choose occasional networking at business, professional or political events; some try to get politicians and senior public servants involved in their business – by, for example, inviting the head of a Government Department to give a speech to a boardroom lunch.  It’s much easier to get someone to hear you out, if you’ve met them previously: if your first discussion isn’t one where you are asking something of them.

For every discussion, with politician or public servant:

  • Plan the best way to get Information across
  • Know who is important in the decision-making chain
  • Ensure your information/message is short, sharp, accurate and persuasive
  • Know what you want from the discussion
  • Have your “ask” clear
  • Get agreement on a follow up – whatever that might be.

And, of course you need to get your best information, the best way, to the right decision maker, at the best time – but timing, and just what you say, is for a later posts.


*    Unless it is a public tender – and you should almost never be talking with public servants or politicians about tender issues after it has gone to the market.

About Mike Smith

Partner in Ethical Consulting Services:; Ethical strategies and programs which get you where you need to go ... * Exceptional government & stakeholder relations, * Thriving governance systems, * Specialised project facilitation, * Inbound investment assistance, * Successful marketing, communications and PR campaigns ... and customised training in each of these areas.

Posted on November 11, 2014, in Communication, Government Relations, how to lobby, Lobbying, Public service and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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