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In defence of lobbying...

In celebration of the merger between the APPC and the PRCA, I thought the timing was propitious for an article in defence of lobbying, an art form still too little understood and under-appreciated.

For more than thirty years I have been a practitioner. I have had the privilege of being taught by some of the industry’s greats and been a participant in some pretty amazing political events. I have witnessed the industry’s highs and lows. For all of that, I remain convinced that what we do is fundamental to the efficient and effective working of a modern democracy.

Over the last thirty years, there has sometimes been a tendency for the industry to look inwards rather than externally. As a result, too little attention has been spent educating influential others about what we do and why it is beneficial. A good example is the lack of understanding that still exists amongst journalists. Why is it wrong for a public affairs practitioner to take out a politician for lunch? Journalists do it all the time. Bizarre.

There has also been a tendency amongst some parts of the industry to deny what it is we do. First and foremost, those of us in consultancy exist to gain a competitive advantage for our clients. We do so through an expert knowledge of how politics works and through an extensive political network. The debate about strategy versus contacts is fatuous, rather like the debate in Capriccio over music versus words. They are both essential parts of our art. The same objective applies to in-house public affairs practitioners. What is or should be a given however (for every public affairs practitioner), is a passion for politics. Without that, it is hard to see how best advice can be given.

Although the word ‘lobbying’ is often used to describe our industry, the reality is that our clients are the lobbyists and we are their strategic advisers. We identify the key players. We hone the arguments. We advise on timing and place. We hold their hands and gain their trust. To be successful, senior politicians and their advisers must also know us. As in every walk of life, people like to do business with people they like and respect.

In recent times, the industry has lost its way. The old swagger has too often been replaced with a heads-down approach to dealing with journalists and commentators. Perhaps there is a fear that a high profile will lead to unwanted media attention? If so, I hope that the newly created Public Affairs Board will set about restoring the industry’s self-confidence. We should be proud of what we do and what we achieve. We need to tell the world why we deserve respect and recognition.

So, a line needs to be drawn in the proverbial sand and the industry needs to get back on the front foot, agree a clear agenda and core narrative, and then use its communication skills and expertise to make the case for what we do. I believe that Francis Ingham is just the man to do this. I wish him well.