Thursday, January 26, 2012

Playing the Influence Game: Start with Knowing the Nature of What You're Selling

You may have noticed the dearth of blog postings from the Advocacy Guru in the last few months.  But have no fear!  You’ll hear a lot from me in the coming months as I gear up for the release of my next book, The Influence Game, coming out in May, 2012 from Wiley publishing.  The Influence Game shares 50 of the most effective “insider” tactics used by D.C. lobbyists and special interests to persuade legislators and their staff.  And believe it or not, none of these involve manipulation, bribery or lying! 

Throughout the next few months, I’ll be sharing the short versions of some of these tactics.  I’m starting with one of the most important, “knowing the nature of what you’re selling.” 

If you think about it, in any influence situation, whether you’re working with policymakers, business leaders or your spouse, you’re selling something.  Sometimes it’s a widget and sometimes it’s an idea.  But either way, you’ll want to know the intent, scope, importance and timeframe of your sale. 

Let’s start with “intent,” by which I mean knowing the difference between asking for action or inertia.  Sometimes you’ll want the decision maker to do something.  Sometimes you’ll want the decision maker to NOT do something or, in fact, anything.  It won’t surprise you to know that in Washington D.C. inertia is almost always the easiest to achieve.  Special interests often succeed simply by persuading Congress that the status quo is better than any changes legislators could come up with.  Inertia in Washington, D.C. is so bad that even the “must pass” bills, like the appropriations bills that keep the government funding never actually pass on time.  And when I say never, I mean never.  They haven’t passed on time ONCE in the last decade.

That said, sometimes advocates must push for something affirmative, such as passing a tax extension that would expire without specific action.  Your entire strategy, including message development, timing, tactics used to reach out to decision makers and specific actions for follow-up, will depend on this basic understanding.  So as you’re getting started with your influence effort, ask yourself “am I pushing for action or inertia?”  Knowing the answer to this question will get you started in the right direction.

Next time we’ll look at the scope of your ask, particularly whether it’s controversial or easy -- and how to manage each type.

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