How to Get That Meeting

knock-minister-door-smallIt’s no use having the best idea in the universe, if it requires Government input yet you can’t get to talk about it with a Government Minister* or senior public servant**.

There are many ways to secure that meeting, but all require effort and planning; not all are suitable for every issue, nor all the time.  They include

  • Write a letter/send an email,
  • Ask a Member of Parliament or political advisor to secure it,
  • Meet at a Community Cabinet,
  • Meet at a Party Conference business centre, or
  • Meet at a Party fundraiser.

Letter or email

Ministers are busy – I’ve never met one who isn’t – and time-poor.  To manage their workload, they have to prioritise, and be convinced that your particular meeting has value, or they will avoid it in favour of more pressing or important business.  Your meeting request must persuade them of that value.

They will need to see your issue is significant to the Government or Minister and of public interest (i.e. the outcome goes beyond impacting just you), the Minister can have a role in the solution or needs to be alerted to a problem, you can add value to development of a solution, and the Minister is the right person to talk with.

Even if you use a lobbyist to organise the meeting, they need to demonstrate the same things, or they will wear out their welcome with the Minister or Department, and maybe yours too.  A lobbyist asking a Minister for meetings will find it harder to organise meetings if they get a reputation for wasting Ministerial time.

Member of Parliament

If you’ve got a Member of Parliament enthused, and they will champion your cause and open the Ministerial door for you, they must be persuaded of those things, too, and able to persuade the Minister or senior public servant.  It’s the same with political advisors.  Local MPs are often easier to get on board with your idea than Ministers, and if your MP-champion is from the same Party as the Minister, a meeting is easier to get.

Community Cabinet

In jurisdiction that has Community Cabinet meetings (e.g. Queensland) and not all do, get your meeting request in early, follow the forms, in your request demonstrate you are local or the issue is local, demonstrate the issue is important, and prepare for the brevity of the meeting***.

Party Conference

Major parties tend to have a business centre at their annual conferences; those centres include opportunities for business observers to request short meetings*** with Ministers.  Entry to the business centre, which normally includes a wide range of briefings and networking activities, isn’t cheap.  Meetings are rarely long enough to conclude any discussion – usually these are used for an introduction, to be followed by a further discussion.

Party fundraisers

Major parties often have comparatively cheap fundraising events (BBQs, golf days, trivia nights, etc.) to which members and supporters are invited – it’s hard to hear about them if you’re not a member or a supporter, and if you’re neither you shouldn’t go – you will stand out.  They also often have more expensive and smaller fundraising events (dinners with speakers, business briefings and the like) mostly targeted at the business community.  It’s normally really bad manners to try to conclude important business at these functions, but it is quite fine to flag to a Minister that you would like a proper meeting, and ask who you contact to make it happen.  At some of them you get a chance to nominate with which Minister you want to be seated.

* Two inviolate rules: (1) Be prepared and don’t waste their time and yours by under-delivering, or you’ll struggle to get the next meeting, and (2) Do your research and make sure you’re meeting the right person.
** This applies to the Australian system of Government, but the principles are the same in most democracies.
*** You often get really short meetings, in some case only 15 minutes – which requires very careful preparation to ensure you are relevant and focussed, and very careful and planned delivery.  Such meetings are sometimes used as a means to generate Ministerial interest in a further, more detailed discussion.

About Mike Smith

Partner in Ethical Consulting Services: www.ethicalconsulting.com; sometime University lecturer; previously Government Relations consultant; before that Labor Party State Secretary in Northern Territory; union advocate with LHMU/United Voice in NT and NSW; hobby – election campaigns!

Posted on May 6, 2015, in Advisors, Communication, Democracy, Governance, Government decision-making, Government Relations, how to lobby, Lobbying, Lobbyist, public service decision-making, Queensland Government, Strategy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Michael Martindale

    Present an honest and straightforward reason why you want to meet and a reason why a meeting is needed rather than other fora. Seek as little time as possible and be as flexible as possible. Reveal all your hand in advance; you will not be able to do an end run around the bureaucracy. Then be persistent and even annoying if you are given the fob off at first or twice.

    • There are a few other things I left out, too, on the basis that they should be obvious, eg be perfectly honest – what other pointers do you think I should add, Michael? What have you seen people try to do, that needs to be avoided?

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