Making an impact in public affairs campaigning

It can be extremely difficult to get your messages heard by policymakers and the powers that be with all of the noise and demands swirling around Westminster. 

With a challenging economy, cost of living crisis, lasting impact of COVID-19, and many sectors suffering from the impact of years of austerity, it is probably harder than ever to make your case for more funding or a change of direction from those in charge in Whitehall.

However, while no one can guarantee 100% success for every public affairs campaign out there, there are some things you can do to maximise your chances of hitting your objectives, and at least being heard by those that count.

Here are DTW’s eight tips to follow: 

1. Keep your focus narrow

There are probably lots of things you want to achieve, but the simple fact is that you are very unlikely to achieve them all. The more things you have on your wish list, the less likely you are to get them and the less focused you will be. 

Pick one or two key things you want to achieve and go for them in a big way. This means your messages won’t be diluted and you won’t be cast aside for asking too much or being unreasonable.

Make sure, too, that what you’re asking for is deliverable – and not a pie in the sky request. Set out why it’s needed, who will benefit, and what the outcomes will be in the short and long-term. It’s important that the benefits are clear, and that any long-term financial savings are highlighted – even if there is a financial cost in the short-term. 

2. Keep it simple

No-one enjoys wading through complicated information, and it shouldn’t be up to politicians or civil servants to decipher what you are trying to say, so keep your messages simple and memorable. 

Decision-makers, politicians and all stakeholders are busy people and are swamped by emails and demands every day. 

Keep your emails brief and your messages easy to understand, using bullet points wherever possible.

Provide quick and easy briefing papers, with sub-headings, lists, examples, graphs and charts to explain your points and make them easy to digest and memorable. 

Be clear on what you’re asking people to do, so there is no doubt. Put it in bold at the top, to reduce the likelihood of misunderstanding or misinterpretation. 

3. Do your homework and be precise

Be aware that whatever you’re asking for will be picked apart by stakeholders and those in power, so make sure you do your homework, check facts and figures, and be precise in what you’re asking for. Also, be ready for them to kick back and say they have already delivered it, or it’s not required; have your response at hand.

If you’re campaigning for more money, be precise on how much is needed and why – Government likes precise figures – and back up how you have reached that figure. They will ask. 

Make sure you check and double check your facts and figures and ask other experts in the field to do their own workings out, too. You must be able to back up what you’re asking for. 

4. Pick your time 

Think about the timing of your campaign – why now? There is no point in campaigning for more funding just after Government has announced its budget, and there is no point in campaigning for policy change after they have just agreed a new policy.

Pick your time and give yourself lots of space to get your campaign out there. 

Stay abreast of the wider issues in the sector and what is on the Government agenda and try to dovetail your campaign to achieve the greatest success. What campaigns are you competing against, and what is the public perception of the issues right now? All of these things may impact on your success. 

5. Collaborate with others 

Maximise your chances of success by collaborating with other groups and individuals and agreeing key messages that you can all share – even if you remain as separate groups and organise separate events.

It’s important that where groups are campaigning for similar things that you are aligned on key issues. For example, if you’re all asking for more funding, agree together how much funding is required so you can all repeatedly state the figure to those holding the purse strings. If everyone is asking for different amounts, policymakers will presume you haven’t done your homework or that your arguments don’t hold water. 

Collaborate and prepare.

6. Enlist the help of your supporters

It can be difficult to be heard, so make sure you reach out to your supporters and enlist their support. Provide them with key information and materials, so they can campaign on your behalf. This could be your members, regulatory bodies, partner groups, politicians, others in the sector, and professionals.

If you’re looking for action from Government, Members of Parliament can be hugely beneficial in lobbying on your behalf and putting pressure on those with power. If you can enlist an MP sponsor, you can hold briefing sessions in the House of Commons for MPs, however, you can also hold online sessions or one-to-ones to get your messages across.

MPs can also table questions in the House of Commons, so provide them with the questions you would like them to ask or encourage them to submit a bid for a debate in the House or Westminster Hall. 

If your organisation has members, urge them to get involved and to lobby their MPs and others for action. Members of Parliament are much more likely to get involved if they have been asked to do so by a constituent, rather than by you or your organisation. 

Again, make it easy for them. Provide your supporters with the materials and information they need, even providing them with a draft email they can send to their MP or local relevant data. 

You cannot achieve success on your own so empower your supporters. 

7. Take your messages to those that matter

Think about who has influence and who can make a difference to your campaign and then set about talking with them. 

Take the time to build your stakeholder list and to liaise with your key contacts in the most suitable way for them. Emails, letters, leaflets, telephone calls, meetings and briefing sessions are all hugely important, along with press releases and interviews for the media. 

Engaging with those that matter is the most crucial part of your campaign, and the most time consuming. It often takes far longer than anyone would have anticipated, and frequently leads you along different paths of something akin to a rabbit warren but, if you put the time and effort in, you will achieve greater success.  

Take the time, too, to get to know those working for the decision-makers. Share your messages with the researchers, diary managers, Permanent Secretaries and Department heads as this could be key in smoothing the way to the all-important meeting that you need. Getting access to those at the top is often the most difficult hurdle.  

8. Be determined and measure your results 

Campaigning can be hard work and results are rarely achieved overnight, so be dogged in your approach, and be prepared for the long game. Remember, the drip, drip effect of campaigning can and does work. 

You will make mistakes, but you will also achieve small and big wins, so keep the campaign fluid and be prepared to change tack if something is not working as well as hoped. Do more of what IS working. Evaluating your success throughout is key if you want to achieve your overall aims.

Above all, listen to your stakeholders, include them in your campaign, and keep the benefits of what you’re asking for central to everything you do. It is the benefits that will achieve success in the end.  

Rounding up…

So, that’s eight ways to help achieve public affairs campaign success. Want to know more? Drop us a message and one of the team will get straight back to you.