Federal Budget week in Canberra is characteristically crazy; an additional 5,000+ people flood into Parliament House and organisations across the country wait with bated breath to hear how they fare. Many are way out of their depth: they find out about decisions on the day, scramble to influence issues that affect them and their industry when it’s already too late, and get hit hard by the cuts and fall out. An organisation’s response to both good and bad news has a significant impact on their reputation and brand.
The time to influence the Budget is in the year prior to its release. You need to have a clearly articulated bid or position on a policy issue by October, at least seven months before the Budget is delivered.
Next week, organisation’s that have invested in a strategy and developed relationships in Canberra will do better.
A visit to Parliament House to meet directly with politicians, decision makers and influencers is a powerful way to get your organisation’s issue seen and heard. To political outsiders, Canberra can feel alienating and overwhelming. Luckily, 89 Degrees East CEO Annie O’Rourke is a Canberra native who spent many years walking (and sometimes running) the corridors, offices and basements of Parliament House. She’s put together a helpful e-book, Walking the Blue Carpet, full of direct insider knowledge on how to inform, assist and influence the people who matter in Federal Parliament. Read on for the Sparknotes of Walking the Blue Carpet, and find out how to make your work trip work for you.
The “4Ps” will serve you well in Canberra. Repeat after us: be purposeful, pragmatic, and politically astute, and have (top notch) product.
1. Be Purposeful
What is it you want to say and why do you need to go to Canberra to say it? Canberra is full of busy people with very little time for how do you dos. Figure out who you want to talk to, what you want to say, and why it’s worth their while to listen.
Prepare a short document that outlines who you are, your overall goal, proposal, argument, “killer facts”, political implications, and potential media interest. Walking the Blue Carpet contains a template to help you with this. This document will help you stay on message for any communication you have before, during and after your meeting.
Remember it's not all about what you think and what you can offer. Be aware of an MP, Senator, or party’s position on your issue.
2. Be Pragmatic
Do your homework on Parliament House – who’s who in the zoo, how far ahead you need to book in to see them, and the practicalities of navigating what may be an unfamiliar place.
Ministers announce decisions on issues within their portfolio, but there are usually many others working behind the scenes. Know the people (including those in the Opposition and less senior roles) with an interest or influence on relevant policy or legislation. Your first stop should be the Parliament House website members page. As a general rule, expect to wait five to six months for a meeting with party leaders and at least one to two months for Ministers and cross-bench members.
Once you’re in Canberra, wear comfortable shoes, never underestimate how long it can take to get a taxi or uber, remember to stay up to date with current affairs and the Twitter-sphere, and whatever you do – don’t accept coffee during your meeting in Parliament House! Not because the baristas are sub par, but because it’ll waste your precious meeting time.
3. Be Politically Astute
You’re a long way from Kansas! Canberra is its own little village, and the locals will appreciate it if you abide by their customs and peculiarities.
Obviously, politics rules everything. You need to understand the political process and how the issue you are raising may play out in different parts of the community and electorates. If your issue has specific jurisdictional or electorate implications or upsides, you need to understand how this is likely to play out at a national/federal level and what specific strategies might be needed to make it work. Understanding the political makeup of COAG (the Council of Australian Governments) at any point in time is critical if your issue has state/territory implications.
Show that you know what’s up, but don’t initiate political banter or offer your opinions on how the person you are meeting should run their campaign or party, unless you’re specifically asked.
4. Have Quality Product
You’re going to have limited airtime, and it’s very possible that your meeting will get cut short or even cancelled. Communications products will make it less likely for your issue to get lost amongst the hundreds of others presented during sitting weeks.
Prepare communication products that are:
Well branded and easy to identify
Easy to read and digest
Text light, graphic rich
Available in digital format
Don’t prepare a Powerpoint presentation, and don’t bother leaving lengthy reports that will never get read. We recommend case studies, fact sheets, infographics, and short, high-quality videos. Just make sure they make sense to a mass market audience, not just experts on the issue.
For more Canberra insider intel download the full e-book, Walking the Blue Carpet.