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Can NGO and business lobbysist can learn from each others?
A recent post of mine received interesting reaction. Let's explore them.
I am writing this article from the South of France, enjoying some days in warm and sunny weather. A peaceful break from grey Brussels. I’ll be back on 21 with new ideas and ambitions for The Beubble (more info to come).
During this retreat, I have been looking back at old articles, in an attempt to review and edit them. This weekly newsletter, The Beubble on LinkedIn, as its name suggests, is accessible on my social media of choice.
The first piece featured a reader-favourite on the difference between NGO and business lobbying strategies. And it sparked an interesting conversation in the comments.
What can the business world learn from nonprofits
Last week, I posted on LinkedIn this article.
The main point: contrary to popular belief, NGOs and nonprofits are often more successful than businesses in influencing EU policymaking due to several factors, such as specialisation, the ability to deliver strong political arguments, their deeper reach towards political figures, and their success at attracting talents.
And to conclude on an inquisitive note: can—and should—business lobbyists draw inspiration from nonprofits’?
I believe that this is not only possible but much needed. Clear messages, emotional arguments, and mission-driven advocacy should not be a prerogative of NGOs.
I happily saw that this opinion was shared even by some of the most influential lobbyists in Brussels.
Patrick Keating, co-host of the PluxCast podcast commented that:
NGOs indeed do have an edge. They can often be much better resourced than businesses Brussels offices, can take a much more emotive stand point and are less accountable to customers, investors or other stakeholders.
When asked whether business lobbyists could draw from this, Patrick added:
[…] I think there is a slowly growing awareness that business lobbying messages must contain more of an "emotional appeal," in order to gain traction with policy makers. This can be done through increasing public facing communications activities, to support the traditional nuts and bolts technical discussions on files that needs to happen.
Therefore, if you are a business lobbyist, I am certain there are things you can draw from examples of NGOs such as Greenpeace, or ClientEarth to name a few.
Ask yourself what emotions you can add to your messages. Or refine your claims until they become a clear and impactful slogan, much like a rallying cry.
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What can NGOs can learn from business lobbying?
On the same question, Christopher Hodder shared a different perspective.
Having worked on both sides, I agree that NGOs have an edge on political issues and business has an edge on technical. However, I think that so much of Brussels policy making is technical that overall business has the bigger influence. Perhaps on some marquee issues, the NGOs have an edge, but certainly day-to-day, the business lobby is winning the smaller battles.
Which prompted me to ask another question: if businesses have an edge—albeit a different one, could it be something NGOs could draw inspiration from?
And indeed, I am convinced that both can learn from each other. Nonprofit activists could well learn a thing or two about restraint and diplomacy. And when it comes to technicality, I am certain that a well-organised association will have no issue finding impactful yet precise figures to feed its arguments.
Taking into consideration the strength of both businesses and NGOs, can we come up with a winning strategy to convince our mutual stakeholders?
NGOs and business lobbying—Two different worlds?
I believe the answer to that question lies in balance.
If NGOs have an edge when it comes to emotional arguments, businesses, with their much more poised stance, have an advantage when discussions become more technical.
Therefore, a good strategy incorporating both approaches could involve an initial brisk and emotional campaign, followed by a more subtle and fact-based negotiation.
By setting a high stake at the beginning of a political campaign, you can assure that your position is well understood and shared by all stakeholders, and encourage people to come your way. Once all parties gave their position, the time turns to negotiations and arbitration where a more diplomatic approach wins the deal.
And once again we fall on the traditional campaigning pattern: a bold statement and wide-reaching effort to set the political agenda, before concluding with technical debates that will help reach a deal that—hopefully—satisfies all parties.
Once again, I’d like to hear from you. Let’s continue the conversation in the comment section below.