Building, Construction News and the ICE offer their 10 great tips for lobbying campaigns
This week I was delighted to hand over the reins as Chair of CAPSIG to my successor, Phil Morgan, head of external and public affairs at the Civil Engineering Contractors Association.
CAPSIG is the construction and property special interest group of my professional institute, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. It's a group of 250 or more bright minds in PR working in property, architecture, construction and related sectors, who meet four or five times a year to network and share ideas on best practice in PR. I have had the privilege of chairing the group for more than four years, so it was high time that someone else took over the role. I've no doubt Phil will do a great job... Although not too good, please Phil... ;-)
The official election of the new Chair for CAPSIG was also marked by an excellent event on lobbying campaigns in construction. (I shall put the link to the presentations from this event as soon as it's available).
We looked at three recent campaigns that have aimed to influence political support and policy for the construction industry and that are, to varying degrees, still active now:
- Nick Edwards, Editor of Construction News, talked about CN's Vote for Construction campaign *
- Sarah Richardson, Deputy Editor of Building, talked about Building's Charter 284 *
- Lionel Zetter, one of the PR industry's most distinguished consultants, talked about the campaign for a National Infrastructure Investment Bank (NIIB) run by the Institution of Civil Engineers.
(* sorry, the links to CN and Building may only be helpful if you are a subscriber to these publications - their websites now have paywalls).
Each campaign has clearly enjoyed some success so far, although I got the sense that (much like the rest of us) they are facing a much harder task now if they still want to lobby a coalition Government.
But it was particularly fascinating to hear how and why industry magazines choose to run their own campaigns. Like professional institutes and trade associations, these titles see themselves in much the same light as membership bodies - lobbying on behalf of their readers in order to build loyalty, to be seen to be 'giving something back', and to position themselves as leaders in the industry.
Phil asked each of the speakers for their views on what makes a successful campaign. Here are the 10 great tips they offered:
- Have clear aims - this is where I think both Building and the ICE campaigns were particularly strong. CN had a broad message that could be adapted to different local needs, but the others had the edge simply because they had set out much more specific and measurable actions they wanted to see. Obviously, the more targeted and detailed you can be in your aims, the more focus, impact and success you are likely to achieve.
- Don't campaign against your own readers/members - cue an interesting discussion about whether CN would ever run a campaign on tackling health and safety failures in the industry... but that, as they say, is another story...
- Commission research first - Building used the LEK report, the ICE commissioned its own research and discussion paper on the feasibility of the NIIB (see link above), and CN tapped into the political insights and resources offered by its sister company DeHavilland. This research gives a strong factual foundation to any lobbying or PR campaign and means it will be taken more seriously.
- Make it memorable - via a catchy name, striking logo, publicity stunt etc. This is where Building made a huge impact. The agitprop graphics created by Group Production Editor David Rogers were awesome, and created a strong visual brand for the campaign that Building used over the six weeks on the run-up to the Election.
- Aim to make a difference - and, if I may add something here, make sure you claim the success afterwards. There's no point going to all the effort of lobbying for change if no one knows about it. As Sarah said at the CAPSIG event: it pays to be "shouty and intelligent".
- Offer solutions - this is particularly important in the current climate. A campaign cannot just be a whinge.
- Align with Government - or, in other words, don't be stubborn and try to push water uphill. And forget any special pleading for the sector. Know what the Government's aims are, and propose a clever, low cost way they can meet those aims.
- Forge alliances with others - something I believe is absolutely critical if you aim to achieve thought leadership (here's an earlier blog post on this). But there was no chance of Building and CN cuddling up together on a joint campaign, I was told - no matter how great the threat to the industry. This is where the ICE and other professional institutes can take the lead. Interestingly, Building pre-tested its campaign with several industry groups and then made many phone calls over a couple of weeks to ensure they could sign up key people and organisations to the cause. Even they knew it would not be enough to put the Charter on the front cover and expect everyone to respond - the team had to get out there, be proactive and work hard to recruit the campaign's supporters. One thing I particularly liked about CN's campaign was the way it provided readers with information on prospective parliamentary candidates in their area, plus other information that would allow supporters to localise the messages behind the campaign.
- Be realistic about what you can achieve - all three campaigns demonstrated this modesty and realism, and this plays well with Government and readers/members alike.
- Have patience - oh, how true! Campaigns may only run at full throttle for a short time, but the real success comes from sustained, long-term effort. Like the ICE's campaign, think in terms of several years and - assuming it's worth doing - make the commitment to see it through to the end.
So what else would you say is essential for a successful lobbying campaign?
And what campaigns should UK construction be running now, faced as we are with many new political, economic, social and technological challenges? Participants at the CAPSIG event suggested campaigns on energy security, respect for people/employees, support for SMEs, recruiting new talent into the industry and improvements to the public procurement process. What would you add to that list?