Category Archives: Advisors

Happy Anniversary To Us!

_LDP8380-cropped and smallAlmost exactly a year ago, Stephen Robertson and Mike Smith relaunched Ethical Consulting Services as a partnership.

We’re still having fun helping clients with

  • Governance and meeting skills
  • Government and stakeholder relations
  • Project and inbound investment facilitation
  • Branding, marketing, campaigns, and communication

… and training in any of the above!



Peta Credlin & Political Leadership

peta-and-tony-smallI enjoy freaking out my friends by telling them I like Peta Credlin, formerly Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff.  Genuinely, I think she was a woman treated unfairly, that she was smart, tough and capable.  Her politics, sure, were an issue.

Now she’s spoken about gender, I’m reviewing my views.

Peta is quoted as this week saying “If I was a guy I wouldn’t be bossy, I would be strong. If I was a guy I wouldn’t be a micromanager I would be across my brief.”

Superficially, she’s right – these are the disempowering labels used by people, mostly men, when they’re not coping with strong and knowledgeable women.

But her feminist* analysis of commentary of her role mischaracterises those criticisms.

Those who called her bossy didn’t mean it.  They were being polite and euphemistic – they meant she was a bully, and those who bully should be called bullies, though they might claim they’re just forceful or strong or misunderstood.

Those who called her a micromanager were speaking politely, too, and colloquially, and meant much more.  They, too, were being euphemistic – they meant she was megalomaniacal and a control freak, and those who are megalomaniacal or control freaks should be called on it, and mustn’t be allowed to get away with it.

I’ve never met Peta, so can’t attest to the accuracy of what’s been said of her, but I know her critics meant so much more than merely “bossy” and “micromanager”, and I know it’s possible for such criticisms, levelled at a powerful woman by the most sexist men, nonetheless to be accurate or indeed understated**.

I also know this: almost no leader who’s told they are bossy, or a micro-manager, or a bully, or a control freak, will accept it; those who operate like that almost never see it, and describe their behavior differently.

She also said “You will want to have women like me in politics, you will want to have women like me sitting in seats of authority”.

We don’t, if her critics are anywhere close to the mark.

Those in authority who are bullies, or with such megalomaniacal tendencies as control-freakiness, are terrible, and their successes are always temporary and tainted and ultimately discrediting – these behaviours should entirely rule out of leadership roles their practitioners.

We need fewer people at the top of politics or business, with these traits – not more.

She also said, which is unassailable truth:

“… you want women in places where they can make a difference, because half the policy in this country is for us, but only about a tenth of it is by us.

“And if we do not stand up and put women in the epicentre of decision-making, whether it’s boardrooms, government boards, politics, cabinet rooms, wherever, if you don’t have women there, we will not exist.”

As Annabel Crabb says: “… a powerful, cogent, controversial woman who has worked like a bastard for many years to get to the top of an inhospitable system, a flawed and complicated woman …”.

* Some of my friends insist her comments/analysis aren’t feminist.
** And some of those who have said she operates like this are women, not solely sexist men.  No-one can easily claim they completely lack bias, in this instance, though.


Jointly Venturing: Wider Services & Capabilities

Ethical Consulting Services are thrilled to announce we’re now a partnership between former Queensland Government Minister Stephen Robertson and Government Relations specialist Mike Smith.

Stephen brings new specialties to the business – particularly inbound investment facilitation and project facilitation – beyond those Mike previously offered clients, so we’re expanding our scope:

Strategies that get you where you need to go …

  • Government relations & stakeholder relations,
  • Project facilitation,
  • Inbound investment assistance,
  • Governance,
  • Marketing, communications, and campaigns,

… and customised training in each.

And, the value we offer to clients is slightly different, too, now we are two:

We find the pitfalls and opportunities the others miss, giving you the best chance of success, because we’re:

  • ethical,
  • knowledgeable,
  • insightful, and
  • meticulous.

We’re both looking forward to the challenges and opportunities the new partnership will bring.

Our updated website here has more details of what we offer.

If you think we can help your business or organisation, give us a call or send us an email here.



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.

Australian Lobbying: Credibility Fail

in-suit-pocket-95When lobbying and Government relations consultants market their personal access to Ministers, what are they really saying?

Are they claiming that the Government in question is insufficiently accessible, and prefers to talk with businesses and community groups introduced by “friends”?  Are they suggesting Government makes the best decisions when founded on input from their circle alone?

Are they admitting they offer nothing by way of strategic, tactical or communications advice, or that such advice is unimportant compared to access via friends?

If the Government is inaccessible to those outside their circle, is it right to reinforce such behaviour by facilitating it rather than trying to change it?

If a lobbyist is skilled at securing policy outcomes from Governments, as all claim, and if they are committed to Government making best quality decisions, as most too claim, how can they not make an effort to persuade a Government that it needs to be accessible to all?

I assert that whether they market their access ahead of other advisory capabilities, and whether they make a pro bono effort to improve Government decision-making, are tests of lobbyists’ integrity, and of their real commitment to good Government.



Lobbyists Do WHAT?

burke grill chargedMany misunderstand what lobbyists do, and it suits some practitioners to keep it mysterious.

Here’s a list of some of the sort of things lobbying/Government relations consultants* do for clients.

  • Government relations – devising, supervising and/or implementing client profile-building inside Government;
  • Stakeholder relations – similarly, with non-Government stakeholders;
  • Strategy – advising clients on the most effective and likely way to achieve their objectives;
  • Tactics – advising clients how best to respond to events;
  • Communications planning – devising, supervising and/or implementing client communications into Government and the broader community;
  • Message delivery advice – advising clients how best to get their information and messages through to their audience;
  • Lobbying/advocacy – directly conveying client representations to public sector influencers;
  • Research – researching issues, their background, perceptions within Government, processes within Government, and so on; in particular, identifying possible barriers to success;
  • Stakeholder mapping – a specialised kind of research, identifying and categorising stakeholders;
  • Analyse – taking the results of research, and simplifying, summarising, clarifying and organising that material;
  • Synthesising – taking research and analysis from multiple sources or perspectives;
  • Recommending – using analysis to propose strategy, tactics or activities;
  • Open doors – using your contacts and networks to ensure client issues get in front of the right people;
  • Negotiation – directly liaising with public sector influencers to reach agreement on issues;
  • Presentation – directly conveying client information to public sector influencers;
  • Briefing – bringing stakeholders and/or client staff up to speed on issues;
  • Marketing – persuading people in Government to “buy” client credibility or proposals;
  • Public relations – devising, supervising and/or implementing communications programs about your client, in the broader community; and
  • Consulting/reporting – engaging with clients to make sure they are happy with what you’re up to, and getting their take on changes.

burke-grillNot every lobbyist/Government relations consultant does everything on that list, and in fact most do only some of them.

Have I missed anything?


*     I’m using the terms “lobbyist” and “Government relations consultant” somewhat interchangeably – in part, that’s because most lobbyists spend most of their time doing things other than lobbying, as you can see from the list above.


Who’s Your Best Lobbyist?

be yourselfMost lobbyists don’t lobby often. And that’s because they often shouldn’t.

A lobbying job is always about selling something: getting someone in Government on board with a product, a bid, a project, a policy change, a supplier.

No-one smart in Government will easily buy in to any product, policy or whatever it is, unless they have faith in the proponent.

And no-one smart in Government will easily have faith in the proponent – company, entrepreneur, environment group, whoever you are – until they’ve first taken the proponent’s measure, and assessed their good faith and credibility.

A lobbyist can’t be a substitute, can’t deliver that.

Often, you have to do some of your own lobbying, to make everything credible. In those circumstances, all your lobbyist can do is help get you, and the process, ready.

There are exceptions, though – more of which, another post, later!

Myths & Legends of Lobbying

burke grill charged smallWhen you judge a football code, is your gauge the player who starts bar fights, uses steroids, and is sacked by their club?

Jack Abramoff is not the acme of lobbyists, he’s a crook; Brian Burke is not really a government relations consultant, he’s a corrupter of proper process.

Real lobbyists and government relations consultants help those who can’t deal effectively with Government to get their cause heard.

They do work for Greenpeace, and Rio Tinto, and the local kindergarten; they can help stop bad decisions being made, help offset harmful outcomes, and sometimes help ensure the community gets what it needs.

And you’ll never notice those positive outcomes because they’re not boasted of, nor attributed to the lobbyist – the client gets the credit, and the lobbyist is only mentioned when the outcome or process becomes notorious.

Motivating & Persuading

The_Hidden_Persuaders_2010DON’T be asking for a “courageous” decision from the risk-averse, when you’re lobbying!

Public sector decision-makers – public servants and politicians both – are diverse:

  • atheists, and devout;
  • socialists, conservatives, and everything in between;
  • middle-aged men, and young women;
  • leaders, and followers;
  • foolhardy, and risk-averse;
  • courageous, and over-cautious;
  • energetic, and exhausted;
  • arrogant, and humble;

and so on.  Believe clichés at your own risk!

The things that constrain, guide, motivate and persuade them are diverse, too:

  • government priorities and policies;
  • Ministerial, and departmental, objectives and priorities;
  • political or stakeholder fallout;
  • the community’s needs and the public interest;
  • professional and public sector codes;
  • public sector processes and rules;
  • their personal ambitions, values, policy interests, ideology, and political beliefs;
  • proximity of the next election or Ministerial reshuffle;

and so on.

Unless you are across these pressures and possibilities, you’ll end up asking someone who’s never yet made a decision, to endorse something that breaches the Financial Administration and Audit Act and conflicts with Government policy – you’re wasting time and resources.

Careful key messages need to be constructed, that demonstrate your proposal

  • solves a Government problem (not your problem!);
  • reflects Government and Departmental priorities and values;
  • is in the public interest;
  • minimises stakeholder conflict;
  • minimises risk;
  • conforms with every code of behaviour and legal requirement;
  • addresses anticipated objections; and
  • passes the “front page” test.

In constructing such messaging, you’re inevitably researching and applying that which persuades/motivates/determines the decision!

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)