A genuine approach: positive impact lobbying – and why clients should care…?

September 30 2019

The worldwide image of business lobbyists is rather negative: they fight to defend only their companies’ interests; they mobilize their energy to keep a status quo when the world is requesting changes; they act in the shadow. But this aversion to lobbying is not a fatality: the root causes of negative mindsets can be changed if we, lobbyists are strongly committed to engage our clients and our lobbying actions for more sustainable results. Still, the key question remains: How can corporations use their lobbying activities to make a positive impact and continue to generate profits?

Our own journey at Athenora Consulting here in Brussels has led us to become deeply convinced that lobbying could be a tremendous force to drive positive changes. It is no longer sufficient to speak only about how to regulate the activities of lobbyists – nor the level of desired transparency – through more disclosure. It must go beyond that.

Why should corporate clients care? Because societies are changing worldwide and desire for consistency and sustainable actions is growing. Look at the changes in the way consumers buy products today. They agree to pay a little more for more sustainable products or brands “committed for good”. How could we, lobbyists be blind to these deep and far reaching changes? How could we not advise clients working with us to change their expectations from a lobbying strategy to better fit in this trend?

But to do this requires new convictions:

First: the search for profit opportunities is not opposed to trying to make the world a better place. Lobbying as a game-changing tool for more sustainable objectives can bring more commercial revenues for companies that follow this path. Think about reputation. Think about values for employees. Listen to civil society and the worldwide aspiration for responsible behaviour and long-term vision from the private sector and from governments. Choosing this perspective will generate positive values and your customers will be sensitive to it and therefore more loyal. Many customers believe every business has a responsibility to be involved with at least one societal issue, even if it is not directly affiliated with their business. They expect now positive impacts. Your reward for becoming a corporation with positive impact is that a sizable amount of people will trust your brand more.

Second: the negative perception on legislative intervention is not an absolute truth. For understandable reasons, many companies still see legislative intervention as a burden. Their lobbying activities are clearly dedicated to mitigating the risks they perceive linked with a new regulation. With the approach of positive impact lobbying, new business activities and hence potential new profits could be driven by legislative intervention. Then lobbying would be more about changing the rules of play to ensure that it is profitable to do the right thing.

How can businesses develop their approach to lobbying for positive impacts?

First: Put corporate lobbying into corporate responsibility strategies. Today best practices for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives and programs are well understood and even benchmarked. But are those best practices really used as a guidance for companies’ lobbying activities? Lobbying intervention must be reflected in a company’s annual report as a key component of the firm’s strategy regarding CSR with a long-term vision. This enhanced link between corporate lobbying and corporate responsibility strategies would mean that companies have pursued their activities in a responsible manner. Our best advice from Brussels, one of the world’s capitals for lobbying: Do not hesitate to integrate your lobbying activities into your sustainability reports and make sure you also build the narrative and the emotional hook!

Second: Inspire – rather than criticize – to accelerate positive changes. Do not stay on the wrong side of history! The voices requesting positive changes are not always so loud. Inspiring decision makers for positive impacts will ensure better relations with them for a genuine partnership. Your influence will naturally grow.

And don’t forget: Make the change personal. The biggest barrier to change is our own propensity when we say “Yes, that’s the problem and that’s the shift we need. If only others would change, we would make a better world.” Lobbying should inspire the willingness for changes to have positive impact. I am convinced that lobbyists can yield positive influence. And when companies engage in lobbying activities, they must start by asking: “Are my lobbying actions generating more positive than negative impacts for society as a whole?”

Lobbying for positive impacts is a challenge but also can be incredibly rewarding—not only for businesses, but also for their leaders and, ultimately, for the whole society.

Natacha Clarac
Director General & Associate, Athenora Consulting
Natacha has been a lobbyist for fifteen years towards the European ecosystem in Brussels. She designs tailor-made influence strategies for clients, based on a detailed analysis of the European political environment. She also leads coalitions of pan-European actors in order to take up the field of ideas and create new dynamics in the positioning of actors. She provides advice in the drafting of messages and negotiation postures for her clients and regularly leads COMEX meetings or brainstorming sessions to define priority messages. Graduated from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques d'Aix-en-Provence and the Institut d'Etudes européennes in Brussels, Natacha is a lecturer in lobbying at Sciences Po Paris and regularly participates in ENA or IHEDN training courses in the field of influence communication. She is co-author of the book Les règles d'or du lobbying (2012) and the collective book Communication (2018).