As voters we expect – or at least hope – that our political leaders will do what we consider to be “the right thing”. And although perceptions of what is “right” will vary, in most cases our elected representatives make decisions that reflect their view of what the public believes or demands.
When we interact with politicians as business people, their frame of reference doesn’t change – predominantly they are still looking to act in what they believe to be the public interest. But of course, our frame of reference does change when it is an issue close to our own hearts (or pockets).
So why is it that we expect politicians to act in the broader public interest most of the time, but change their way of operating when it comes to the issues that we consider most important? Do we ask them to just “fix” our issues, regardless of that broader framework?
The SAS Group regularly hosts events at which clients have the opportunity to speak with political leaders from all levels of government, and both sides of “the fence”. It’s always been our experience that politicians give generously of their time to business leaders, and willingly listen to their concerns and suggestions.
Sometimes they are in a position to act immediately on the suggestions, and other times they can’t. In almost every case however, astute politicians run the suggestions or requests they receive through their “public interest” frame. And here’s the thing – the public needs to understand the issue and what their interest is – before they will accept the political solution.
As voters, we punish government intervention that we don’t understand or don’t believe to be necessary. We use terms such as “over-reach” and “nanny state”. So as business people, we can’t reasonably ask our political leaders to over-reach on an issue, simply because it’s important to us.
Often, we at the SAS Group will mount a public awareness campaign of an issue on behalf of a client, as part of the process of driving policy reform or political intervention. It’s not so much about putting pressure on the politicians – more about helping to create the public interest environment that will support their decision.
If we don’t do that, we are asking them to make a decision that is not in the public interest – or at least not in the realm of public awareness. Maybe a “nanny state” decision.
Recently at an event for clients, a senior political figure spoke very candidly about the need for this public awareness to precede policy change. To the SAS Group personnel in the room, this made complete sense. It’s in line with our own way of operating – create a level of public awareness of the problem before you ask politicians to spend their political capital solving it.
We find this approach gets results almost all the time. We need to help our politicians to help us.
Contact us to find out how.
Malcolm Cole, Director - Media and Communications