Every government relations (GR) professional has experienced it. You mention your job title and are met with a blank stare. As you begin to describe what you do for a living, the person on the receiving end of your explanation grows suspicious. Aren’t you just a lobbyist? And isn’t lobbying just influence peddling, a way of gaming the system through exclusive connections?
A 2014 poll found that only 9% of Canadians trust lobbyists. Though government relations encompasses a wide range of relationship-building activities, lobbying is the one most people immediately understand – or think they understand. This is precisely the problem.
So, how do practitioners overcome negative stereotypes? Through education, of course. One of the most efficient educational mediums is video. According to James McQuivey of Forester Research, one minute of video has the persuasive power of 1.8 million written words. With that in mind, check out (and consider sharing) one or more of the following videos, which take a look at what government relations is really about.
Maria Laptev: The realities of lobbying – a look beyond the smoke and mirrors
Maria Laptev is an experienced public affairs practitioner, as well as a professor at the United Business Institutes in Brussels. Though she works in Europe, Laptev is, in fact Canadian. Her 2014 Ted Talk sums up what it means to be a lobbyist. “Lobbying is about getting government to act”, says Laptev. What follows is a discussion that weaves history and metaphor into an elegant little monologue about lobbying in an era of increased transparency. Fresh and accessible, this talk will interest the uninitiated as well as the seasoned government relations veteran.
During her fifteen- minute exploration of the lobbyist’s role, Laptev discusses opposing views on the Canadian seal hunt, as well the lobbying efforts of Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. In his quest to keep the Web open and untaxed, Berners Lee has spent 35 years speaking to governments and facilitating the creation of citizens groups. Laptev describes this as “a fabulous example of tireless and exemplary lobbying”.
Ethical Conflicts and Dilemmas of Lobbying
If you can get past the high school AV-club aesthetic, this video is worth the watch. In addition to giving the layman a taste of how ethical lobbyists conduct themselves, it provides some practical tips for those working in the GR field. The interviewees are Tom Hoog (Senior Coucil to the Chairman at Hill & Knowlton) and Gary Fazzino (then-VP of Government Affairs at Applied Materials and former mayor of Palo Alto).
Sadly, Fazzino passed away in 2012. This video showcases some of the extensive knowledge he amassed over the course of his career. One of Fazzano’s tenants of ethical lobbying: “never mix political and policy”. Though this video deals with the American context (and it’s a little bit dated), the topics it discusses are highly relevant for Canadian practitioners, many of whom are struggling to understand the new set of rules set out by lobbying commissioner Karen Shepherd.
Dave Meslin – Campaigning for social change
Dave Meslin is a Toronto-based activist. His Ted Talk, The antidote to Apathy, received almost 1.5 million views. In this talk (for Maytree’s “Five Good Ideas” series), Meslin discusses tactics for mobilizing the public. Some might interpret his desire to empower citizens as the antithesis of lobbying and government relations. Of course, they’d be wrong. Public participation in the political process is one of the principles upon which Canadian democracy is based. Any conversation about the fundamentals of lobbying should include the importance of civic engagement.
Though Meslin is speaking to a nonprofit audience, much of what he says is relevant to advocacy professionals in any sector. He suggests that those looking to drum up support “reach beyond the usual suspects” by using attention-grabbing marketing techniques. Using “insider language” should be avoided (this is crucial for persuading most decision makers, as well), and empowering people to advocate on their own behalf is extremely valuable, as is embracing “deep democracy”. For Meslin, part of embracing deep democracy is understanding democracy, which – at it’s core – is about “people coming to the table with different opinions that all have some validity”.
Feature Image: woodleywonderworks