A view from the Dark Side
A guide for those who work for an
Added: 13 April 2007
As all lobbyists, or public affairs professionals as we now like to be
known, are aware, researchers are often slightly apprehensive about
being lobbied, and in my time as a researcher, I was never quite sure
how to handle it. The first question that always sprang to my mind was:
what do they want from me? Having committed to the dark side now, as a
fledgling PA professional myself, Iíve found myself wondering whether
the question should rather have been: what can they do for me?
There are a lot of myths surrounding the public affairs profession, some
self-perpetuating from shady 1980s practice, (Drapergate, cash for
questions etc) and some fuelled by the amusing, if highly imaginative,
portrayal of the river-view offices and Russian mafia hospitality in
drama Party Animals.
The reality is a lot less glamorous than Party Animals, a lot less
scandalous than cash for questions and a harder graft than simply
knowing a few Ministers.
So whatís new about lobbying and how do deal with it?
Firstly, letís dispel the myths. Ok, weíre all aware that the 1980s
heralded a bit of a rough patch, and not just in fashion, but also in
lobbying. What deserves recognition now, however, is that the PA
industry has moved on. The Association of Professional Political
Consultants is doing great work in setting the standards that the
industry has to meet. Its code of conduct focuses at all times on
ethics, transparency and good practice, which means politicians,
stakeholders, and yes, even researchers, can build mutually beneficial
relationships with public affairs consultants which can really make a
difference to the work they produce. APPC members also have to register
all clients on the APPC register, which gives public access to the
interests of each consultancy. For more info on the APPC, visit:
Dealing with lobbyists
Donít be shy.
If contacted by a public affairs consultant, never be afraid to ask
them directly what they want from you, why they want it, and who
they want it for. Under the APPC code of conduct, consultants have a
duty to be open about their intentions when contacting clients,
politicians and stakeholders. If the consultant tries to dodge this
question, avoid them. Itís a common misconception that we lobbyists
like operating in the shadows. We donít. Weíre happy to answer any
questions you have.
Donít be a closed book.
Equally, remember that lobbyists are doing their job. PA
professionals, in house and consultancy-based, are out to represent
the interest of the commercial sector. Whatever your feelings about
the aims of commercial organisations, they have a right to be heard
and have their concerns addressed. To give informed opinion in
policy debate, your boss will have to know all sides of the argument
in hand. If you give lobbyists the time of day, they can make sure
your boss has all the information, and is prepared for all the
counter arguments he or she may face.
Use them as a resource.
Remember that PA consultants are extremely knowledgeable about their
particular sector. They often have access to information about
policy, companies, and stakeholders, and time to focus on singular
issues to develop an in-depth understanding. Researchers, by nature
of the diversity of their work, will be bombarded by copious amounts
of information on a daily basis. So next time your boss wants to
know who said what in which report and why, and they want to know by
yesterday, try asking a public affairs contact, theyíll be more than
willing to help out.
Let them make your life easier.
The chances are, at some point, and perhaps quite often, your boss
will want to meet with local businesses, or even large
organisations, who are lobbying on a certain Bill or policy. Let the
lobbyist make you look good. Most lobbyists will be more than
willing to give you key information prior to the meeting. Use it to
brief your boss, and make sure the meeting is as constructive as
possible, whilst earning you the brownie points of making sure your
boss is clued up and knows what to expect.
If thereís something wrong, say it.
If you feel you are being subjected to some unethical lobbying
practices, report it. The APPC can only function if it is informed
in the way the industry is working.
Look a gift horse in the mouth.
Make sure you keep a scrupulous record of anything of monetary value
a public affairs professional pays for or gives to you. Lunches,
dinners etc. you are obliged to officially declare any gift of over
£250 received from a public affairs consultant. Same goes with your
bosses. While a good lobbyist wonít need to shower you with gifts,
some still might try. Always be aware and wary of this. And gifts
donít mean you owe them a favour. Again, good and ethical public
affairs practitioners know this. Avoid the ones that donít.
In conclusion, remember at all times that lobbyists are just out there
doing their jobs. Yes, they have an objective, but most know the only
way to secure long term goals for their clients is to make sure they
work hard, follow transparent and ethical procedures and maintain
mutually beneficial relationships with MPs and their staff. And who
knows, one day you might decide that you would like to follow a similar
career path. Lobbyists are always willing to wax lyrical about their
profession, and will be happy to bend your ear about the job over a
drink. So next time one approaches you, keep that question in mind: what
can they do for me?
You might also like to look at one of our early guides (February 2004)
on the same issue but written by a researcher:
Some of the references are now out of date.
You can also