Expert view: How to win over policy-makers

Smaller charities often complain that they find it difficult to make their voices heard by policy-makers.

Of course, it's not always desirable to spend valuable time and funds on pursuing local PR wheezes or securing time with elected representatives. But it may be easier than you think. If you're thinking about lobbying, here are some tips.

Work out your key objectives and who you want to target. Do you want to raise awareness of your charity, get answers from the Government or your local authority, or simply build long-term relationships with elected representatives?

Don't damage your chances by wasting your MP's time. Develop your story or narrative and take a succinct written handout to any meeting. Ideally, your ambitions should tie in with those of the political party or elected representative you are meeting. You can do a background search on your MP at www.theyworkforyou.com.

If raising your charity's profile is your priority, don't forget that your target is a newspaper, magazine or online editor. Give him or her something appetizing to use. Hand them a petition, take a delegation of people along to demonstrate support for your cause, or find a moving or appealing photo opportunity. The answers from a Freedom of Information Act request are also a great way to build a story and secure column inches. Editors are always looking for copy during the 'silly season' in the summer when there is very little to report. And approach your local councillors - they may be on holiday, but they'll be around for some of the time. It will greatly help your chances of securing coverage.

It is essential to set manageable and realistic aims. For example, ask your MP to table a parliamentary question. The answer and subsequent follow-up could provide a useful PR angle, and will help to build that all-important relationship between you and the MP's office.

Think strategically. Timing is everything. Suggest ideas and meetings - don't demand attendance. Your local councillors may have full time jobs in the day and your MP will almost certainly be in Westminster at least two days a week. Be flexible with your timetable and give them a wide berth during feverish election periods.

Finally, always follow up meetings with a short thank-you note to whoever you have dealt with - newspaper editors, MPs or local unions. MPs complain that people rarely bother to put pen to paper to register their gratitude. It's amazing what a difference it can make.

- Olly Kendall is an account manager at Insight Public Affairs

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