Government relations is nerve-wracking and can be hazardous if you go about it the wrong way. That’s why so many organizations hire professional government relations firms. If you chose to do it yourself, here are a few quick tips on what to do and what not to do:
DO follow the rules. The federal government and each province has legislation regarding lobbying. Rules vary from province to province about what groups need to register and report government meetings. Make sure you know the rules in your jurisdiction.
DO send the politician’s staff some basic background material in advance. Your meeting time will be short, so you don’t want to waste time running through the history of your organization.
DO practice and be prepared. As part of your preparation, research the bio and career history of the politician.
DO stick to one or two topics and stay focused.
DO try to show how your issue connects to one of the government’s publicly-stated priorities.
DO use examples to show how your issue affects regular people – also known as the voters.
DO talk to any staff members in the meeting as equals, even if they seem shockingly young. They have the politician’s ear more than you do.
DO make an “ask”. Come to the meeting with a specific, focused action you would like the government to do and ask when you can follow up.
DO have some brief (1-2 pages) leave-behind material with contact information. Make it look as slick and professional as possible.
DO thank the politician and staff for their time.
DON’T try to get a meeting by simply walking into the politician’s office. Make a formal request, in writing.
DON’T assume the politician will be familiar with the details of your organization or your proposal. The politician will have many meetings that day and may have only had a few minutes to be briefed on your meeting.
DON’T be late and don’t waste time on small-talk or unrelated topics. The politicians’ schedules are tight.
DON’T talk down to or lecture the politician. You are likely an expert on your topic and the politician isn’t but be wary of creeping into taking a superior attitude.
DON’T use jargon or technical terms. Prepare in advance to explain your field in simple (but respectful) language.
DON’T be disorganized. Practice. Know your background material in case you’re asked a specific question. Appoint one member of your group to be the main spokesperson.
DON’T be negative. Don’t focus on what the government hasn’t done. Present your request as an opportunity for a positive.
DON’T expect a decision on the spot. Politicians do not have that kind of power. Your request will have to go through many channels – the civil service, cabinet and the legislature. Be patient.
DON’T trash talk the opposition parties. This will come off as petty. Besides, that sort of talk gets around and you never know when one of those other parties will be the next government you have to lobby.
DON’T inundate the politician or his staff with heaps of background material. They won’t have the time to review it. Keep your background material short and simple. If they want deeper documentation, they’ll ask for it.
Above all, keep your cool and remember that politicians are just ordinary people. Many of them come from relatively humble backgrounds but must deal with great responsibilities. They deserve your respect and support.