February 20, 2020

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Lobbying for Good: How Do You Build a Narrative?

How to tell the story and mobilize support for the cause.


By Philip Monaghan

It is often quipped that corporate lobbying is the second oldest profession in the world. In this third in a series of features by Infrangilis to coincide with our new book with Up the Ethics, we focus on how a company can build the narrative for its advocacy strategy on Lobbying for Good to ensure it is sweet music to anyone’s ears.

Hooking the Buy-in

After a compelling issue has been identified, it is important an emotional hook be established between the opportunity/problem and the necessary legislative solution. A motivational story is needed that demonstrates the creation of shared value for society as well as the company – it may help to build this narrative early so it can help secure buy-in for the proposal internally.

Take for instance the public position of the independent music retailer Vintage Vinyl, which is that “the American Dream needs a minimum wage increase,” a story syndicated by #raisethewagenewswires around the world.

Vintage Vinyl is a signatory to the Business for a Fair Minimum Wage campaign, which is supported by the American Sustainable Business Council. The coalition of 200,000 businesses says that increasing the minimum from today’s US$7.25 to US$10.10 will build a stronger economy.

It has produced comprehensive studies to show that increasing the minimum wage, which has been at the same level since 2009, will not negatively impact employment. Crucially, it is also arguing that raising the minimum wage has strong public support across the political spectrum with 80% of Americans, including 62% of Republican voters, supporting a raise. In the absence of a national increase, states such as New Jersey and California have passed ballot measures to unilaterally raise their rates.

The Three Ss of Effective Storytelling

When building the narrative, be guided by the three S’s of effective storytelling: the story should be sharp, simple and short. It will need to encompass:

  • Why the issue is important for society at large (e.g., how aggressive tax avoidance leads to a significant loss of revenue for Government welfare programs);
  • How taking a voluntary approach has been tried and failed (e.g., despite public uproar, the tax gap remains as enormous as ever);
  • What the company is asking legislators/regulators to do (e.g., close loopholes on unscrupulous tax havens); and
  • Why taking action can make a huge difference (e.g., the extra revenues could pay for hundreds of thousands of teachers and/or nurses).

If there is a mass mobilization element to the initiative, then the narrative should also cover:

  • What action the company is asking people to undertake (e.g., sign a petition, contact a Member of Parliament or Congress);
  • Why it is important to act now (e.g., a general election is approaching and this provides a great opportunity to influence policy formulation);
  • Compelling images, given ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ (e.g., infographics); and,
  • Remember it is much harder to engage people on a broad subject (e.g., social justice) compared to a specific issue (e.g., paying a living wage).

Framing the Story

Framing the story is critical to its success. Information needs to be placed into a context that makes it more palatable to a particular group.

For example, conservative skeptics will be more accepting of climate science if it is framed as supporting a free-market solution they find appealing for ideological reasons, such as market investment in nuclear power. Ideological predispositions skew everyone’s considerationframing sustainability of facts – and framing can help counter (or exploit!) what is essentially human irrationality.

Another factor to bear in mind when developing a narrative is that policy makers (and to a degree, the general public and media) are particularly sensitive to any subject matter that can be reduced to the numbers of jobs created or destroyed in their locality.

Environmentalists will often bolster support for greenhouse gas reduction targets and renewable energy by painting a picture of how a green economy might look and the jobs that will be created getting there. Remember though, “jobs lost” will equally be the last refuge of those who have exhausted every other argument to save a product that has been proven to kill or pollute—be it restrictions on the export of jobs to oppressive regimes or the phase out of toxic chemicals.

Once the narrative has been built, your company can then turn its attention to the next critical step – mobilizing resources – an area Infrangilis will explore in next week’s feature.

Part 1: Lobbying for Good: The Next Wave of Corporate Responsibility?

Part 2: Lobbying for Good – How to Select the Issue?

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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