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The 11 rules of good Government relations

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By Benjamin Haslem

The team at Wells Haslem has been involved in at least half a dozen benchmarking studies of senior Federal and State Ministers, their shadows, MPs, chiefs of staff, advisers, senior public servants and political journalists.

These qualitative and quantitative surveys have helped us develop 11 rules of effective advocacy to government, which we use in all our government relations work.

1. Operate inside the tent
If you'll excuse the colourful language, US President Lyndon Johnson once said of FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover: “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in”.
This applies to good government advocacy. 
It’s better to be inside the tent working with government than standing outside picking a fight. Go in the front door.
Try to work with people. Don’t pick a public fight over a disagreement with government or opposition. Go and talk to them.
So many companies and organisations mistakenly think the best way to get a government to do something is to try and shame them publicly through the media.

2. Establish rapport
Establish and nurture relationships. Don’t just go and see ministers relevant to your business when you need something.

  • Attend functions where a minister is speaking; 
  • Send them studies or reports you have completed, including annual reports;
  • Introduce them to a visiting member of your global team who has fresh insights into an issue; or
  • Invite them to your functions.


3. Offer solutions not problems
If you have a problem don’t speak to MPs without having a solution.
Do the thinking for them.

4. Be Realistic
Don’t ask for something you know the government can’t deliver.
Don’t use ambit claims. Go in with what you want.

5. Use evidence not assertions
All government policy is now evidentiary based so you must get away from political assertions.
Government departments often have studies showing the opposite to what you assert.
Go equip with independent studies that demonstrate how your ask will help government by delivering cost savings, better health outcomes etc.

6. Work within Government agenda
You would never propose socialism to Tony Abbott or David Cameron or universal healthcare to a Tea Party-backed GOP congressman. 
And remember political parties' agendas change. The Australian Labor Party has long dropped
its blanket opposition to privatisation; the Liberal Party now supports Medicare.

7. Public good not private benefits
Stress how your ask will benefit others.
Don’t appear disingenuous; acknowledge the benefit for you and your organisation.
Governments want to be able to sell public benefits so it can wins votes.

8. Recruit allies and 3rd party endorsement
Independent support dilutes perceptions of self-interest.
The government also knows it risks independent criticism if it refuses to help
And if or when you take your case to the media it is more credible and therefore places more pressure on government.

9. Build a credible public profile
Always, not just at times you are seeking government assistance or support.
For example, seek out opportunity to promote your company or organisation’s sustainability credentials.

10. Present your case professionally
Rehearse your pitch to ministers, advisers and so on.
Have a leave-behind briefing paper and other materials but don't overwhelm.
Try and anticipate questions and have answers ready. 
Follow up with z thank you note and ask: “did we answer all your questions?”.

11. Say thanks and give some credit
When the Government delivers on your request, it's good form to acknowledge publicly via a media release; even if you don't get everything you asked for.
It's amazing how often this is not done.