There are all kinds of government relations companies who will help organizations lobby government. What’s different about Leonard Domino’s “Face to Face” approach?
“There are two main things that make our approach different.
“The first one is that, as our clients are planning their approach to government and to elected officials, we advise them to start by understanding the position and the needs of the people they’re going to be talking to.
“Elected officials and their staff face constant demands for their time and attention. And they also often face conflicting demands – plus the need to manage the political implications of every decision they make.
“So we tell our clients ‘Before you start trying to persuade them to see the world from your perspective, take a little time to see the world from their perspective. If you do that, you’ll be a lot more likely to end up asking them questions they’ll find it easier to answer positively.’
“The second thing that makes the ‘Face to Face Lobbying’ approach different is that it is exactly what the name says: it involves personal, face to face communication between our clients and elected officials and their staff at all levels – and we work very hard to make sure that personal communication happens in at atmosphere of trust, shared purpose and mutual respect.”
Some government relations companies brag that they can arrange meetings with Ministers or other elected officials very quickly. Can Leonard Domino & Associates match that claim?
“We probably could, but that’s not how we approach it, because we don’t thinking getting a quick meeting has any particular value – to our clients or to the processes of government. Instead, I guess we’d brag that we’re very good at helping clients to arrange meetings with Minister or other elected officials when it’s most likely those meetings will be fruitful.
“That’s why we advise our clients to take the time to learn about the positions and objectives of the elected and political people. We think it’s important to make sure that they’re provided the right information in the right form – to the political staff who advise the elected people and to the members of the bureaucracy who will play their own role in any decisions that are made. We believe it’s invaluable to do some informal exchanges of information – that’s how you build real trust.
“Once that’s been done… once that foundation has been laid – then face to face meetings with Ministers and other elected people can be tremendously valuable. And that’s when we work to arrange those meetings.”
You talk about “Ministers and other elected officials”. Aren’t the Ministers and the Premier – and their staff – really the only ones who count? Why waste time talking to anyone else?
“That’s a common – and quite wrong – assumption about the way government works, especially in Ontario today. Under this government, individual MPPs have more influence in decisions than ever before. Every member of the government caucus serves on at least one Cabinet Committee – as a full voting member. And Caucus takes a keen interest in all government decisions. Even the most powerful Ministers think twice about bringing forward proposals that might awaken caucus resistance.
“Even the attitude of opposition MPPs can have a huge impact on government decisions. Governments and Ministers have only so much political capital, and they may be reluctant to spend that capital fighting for your issues.
“That’s why we urge our clients to build face to face contact at all levels.
“And there’s another, long term point that should never be forgotten: today’s ‘ordinary MPP’ may be tomorrow’s senior Minister, and today’s opposition member may be sitting on the government benches at a later date.
“The relationships you build now can pay dividends in the future.”
Why don’t more government relations firms use something like the Domino “Face to Face Lobbying” approach?
“One reason might be that our approach involves an awful lot of work for the government relations firm – and it’s not all glamorous policy discussions. Instead, it’s hour after hour of patient telephoning to establish contact with very busy people. It’s hours of polite persistence. It’s careful and detailed briefing so that, when members of our client organizations meet with the Ministers or other elected officials, both sides are well-prepared.
“Just getting a meeting with these busy people is hard enough. But the ‘Face to Face Lobbying’ approach doesn’t just aim to arrange meetings: we aim for meetings that will be successful. They’re a lot more work, but they have a lot more value.