Thursday, October 20, 2016

Lobbying, Public Affairs or Advocacy?

In the US, they call it lobbying. When the White House burnt was destroyed by a fire, the US [resident was staying in a DC hotel and representatives of interests hang out in the lobby and the corridors to talk to him and his aides, hence the term lobbying.

In Europe, it is referred to as Public Affairs. That applies mostly to companies and associations.

Causes and NGOs tend to use the term Advocacy.

Is there really a difference?

Well, let's start from the basics. Legislation, laws, affect us all. They determine what we cannot and can do. As citizens and as economic operators. In other words, they set the framework for our lives. Laws are drafted by civil servants (lets refer to them as policy makers) and they are approved by legislators.

In principle, all have the right to have a say on draft law as well as policy papers that precede them (called White and Green papers in the UK and the EU). If  the opinion comes with a rationale attached to it, so much for the better.

In Brussels, thousands of people every day go about the business of public affairs and advocacy. What do they actually do?

They monitor legislative proposals that are either being drafted or in the EU's complex legislative pipeline. They inform their companies and other organisations around the EU (and outside the EU) on what is happening. That allows for the impact to be examined. Then they form opinions, official or not, and try to pass them on to the policy makers and the legislators.

In my book, lobbyists use connections - friends in the right places to affect policy. Public Affairs relies more on marketing. Advocacy uses anything they it can think of, including demonstrations and media stunts. That is because advocates tend to use public opinion much more than others do.

When I was working at a well known European business organisation in Brussels, I used to think how much time we spent deliberating opinion papers on draft laws and how little to market them. I used to envy for example Greenpeace for using many PR tools that business normally does not.

I believe that policy makers and legislators have not only a right but also an obligation to hear the opinions of citizens. All of them. And that is why I have written that a lobbyists' register is unfair, because full time "lobbyists" tend to register and thus the casual opinion holder is kept out of face to face meets with the policy makers and legislators. Instead, all meets and topics of any meeting of policy makers and legislators should be recorded in a "diary" and the compiled database should be publicly available. That is if transparency is to be really pursued.

It would also help if all public affairs and advocacy sides published their opinions. Many do. Plus we of course have consultations by eg the European Commission where citizens and organisations submit their written opinions/views.

That of course makes for a very complicated legislative process. And the only people who keep their eyes on the ball are policy makers, legislators and public affairs and advocacy professionals. Because the nitty gritty is too complex for even most journalists to keep up with. That is one of the reasons the average voter feels left out.

But what makes advocacy so different is that it has the culture of creating messages that are appealing to the media and the public opinion out of "boring" policy and legislative issues. And that is something many public affairs professionals would like to do too, if they were culturally permitted to.

The timing for that is good, because what the EU and most countries want is to produce more growth and employment and who knows how this is done better than the companies, small, medium and large. They create the GNP and the jobs, at least in the current political-economic system in Europe.

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