Five ways to spot a lobbying campaign

Posted by: on May 26, 2021 | No Comments

Open a newspaper or scroll through social media and you can’t help but fall over a story, thread or post that is really aimed at lobbying the government. But how can you tell? What are the tell-tale signs? And what could you learn from it?

Recent example

The fall-out from the recent, short-lived European Super League continues to be felt across football and government. Most recently a number of high-profile former playersincluding Jamie CarragherGary NevilleRio Ferdinand and Gary Lineker signed an open letter calling on fans to sign a parliamentary petition calling for an independent regulator.

Whilst those involved may not think they are lobbying, they certainly are. This is a move aimed at influencing public policy and that is what lobbying, public affairs, government affairs are focused on. It always helps to consider such examples – they can provide inspiration but may also serve as a warning. So how should we spot such a lobbying campaign?

Spot the lobbying

  • Consider the target – if the campaign or actions are focused on a parliamentary or government audience then it is seeking to exert an influence on public policy. In the example of the letter mentioned, the aim was to secure enough signatories to a parliamentary petition so that the issue is debated in Parliament. But equally the story could focus on a Select Committee submission or inquiry that enables the key ‘ask’ to be conveyed. There are several possible options not least a survey, research, or report.
  • The process – it must accurately reflect the government’s decision-making process at a time when influence is still possible. This requires an understanding of the process for the issue at hand, knowing who the target should be and when to try to exert the influence as well.
  • The coverage – the timing of the coverage is critical. Too early and the government could react in the opposite way to that intended. Too late and there is no chance of influence. Too loud and government might think you are trying to bully them. Too quiet and no-one will be interested. So, if the coverage seems to reflect these various demands then it is lobbying.
  • Celebrities – the use of celebrities is not a fool-proof method of spotting lobbying, but it can be a good indicator. They are though used in other forms of campaigning, such as fundraising efforts or awareness raising. But working with a ‘name’ may help to secure coverage and politicians can often feel compelled to respond because the appreciate the influence that the celebrity may have. So, it is the coverage and the ability to secure a reaction.
  • The issue returns – if the story comes up once in your timeline or the coverage lasts only a day, the chances of it being part of a lobbying campaign are much less. However, if the issue keeps coming up again and again then it will be focused on lobbying the government. Any good campaign will find ways to help maintain the pressure. Again, the example of the reform of football suggests an ongoing campaign with this event being held by think tank, Onward.

Now whether any of this makes for good or bad lobbying is a different matter. Simply highlighting the issue isn’t enough. Instead, it must look at the solution to be delivered by government. Again, the Super League example is seeking an independent regulator and that might just work. But there will also need to be a whole range of detailed work that sits behind the development of that regulator as well so there is plenty of opportunity for it to fall.

Similarly, whilst the coverage may have a government target, it might not be the right one.

Personally, I love playing ‘spot the lobbying’ across the media and social media. When you start to pay attention then there is a lot of it out there and from a huge range of organisations. That presents a challenge – how do you make your lobbying stand out from all the others? It is a competitive space.