When companies lobby in Brussels, it is remarkable the extent to which they have become focussed on the backbone of their communication being ‘key messages’ and ‘proof points’, without developing an underlying narrative or story.
Such a focus is to misunderstand whether what is happening, in for example the MEP’s office, is private or public. (Indeed this distinction is rarely considered).
To the lobbyist, it is private. ‘We have secured a meeting, we have 20 minutes to convince the politician of the correctness of our case.’
To the MEP, it is public. The MEP is not thinking, ‘Are these people right?’ He or she is thinking, ‘When this issue goes public, which is the more attractive narrative to which I should attach myself, the one I am hearing now or the narrative I heard yesterday from the ENGOs?’.
Worryingly for companies, MEPs and others are noticing that the choice to agree with ENGOs and others is becoming easier. This is not because the ENGO narrative will be more resonant in public, it is because the industry has not communicated a narrative at all.
Pressure groups / ENGOs spend a great deal of time focusing on developing the most publicly attractive story to convince the politician that it is safer to side with them; many in industry do not. Pressure groups build their messaging competitively (what will the other side say in their meeting with this politician this afternoon, and how do we make sure our messaging beats theirs?); companies often build their messages by simply wordsmithing their objectives. This would never happen in Marketing, would it?
If you were the politician, which side would you choose? Whose argument is more attractive in public? If this is how each side prepares their narrative for you, which side will be more politically savvy in public, and have a stronger chance of winning the media debate?
When companies complain about politicisation of the process, this is the gap. Don’t think of politicians as judges of a case, think of them as people with careers like you. Don’t build messages in a vacuum, work out the best case of your opponents and build your case competitively. Don’t plan to communicate in private – tell a story.
How would you explain why you are right to a seven year-old child?