Part vi: Deciding an approach

6.1 Deciding an approach

It is almost always a poor idea to design advocacy campaigns around negative themes and to fail to offer solutions. For example, lowering the minimum wage may be a priority issue but the policy objective for the EO should be something like: "ensure that any increases in the minimum wage are restricted to a level below the prevailing rate of inflation" rather than simply: "reduce the minimum wage".(1)

On occasion, EOs will need to take a vocal and visible approach to an issue and proactively push (and be seen to push) an issue publicly (for example coming out strongly in the media against a proposed course of regulation). In this, the business community can clearly see its 'national organization' acting on its behalf. However, this is often the exception. Much of an EO's advocacy efforts are done behind the scenes where more subtle efforts are underway to affect policy change.

Representative business organizations have to see themselves in a commercial context: their customer is the "Business Community"; their 'Point of Sale' is government, but their customers do not see the EO at the 'Point of Sale'. For this reason, business organizations need to work hard to demonstrate their value and show their impact.(2)

Taking a visible and vocal public approach is therefore intermittently important for the EO vis à vis its wider profile with its members.

6.2 Loud or quiet approach

The approach the EO takes to advocacy will be predicated on national political circumstances and current relationships with government.

In most cases the EO's main advocacy work will be done quietly influencing policy-makers in corridors. This is the classic quiet approach. The EO has established relationships and will be providing policy-makers with evidence-based material to advance its issue.

They will not take a highly critical public approach – although the quiet approach does not preclude an active media campaign – it will just temper the style from confrontational to more constructive. It will above all seek to maintain its relationships.

The second approach is less common but may be necessary depending on the national circumstances, the so-called loud approach. Relationships for example between government and the EO may have totally broken down, and the only way the EO feels it can advance its policy agenda is through a confrontational approach such as press advertisements, open letters, legal tactics, and so on.

The characteristics of the loud approach are a public and occasionally aggressive stance by placing strong pressure for change coupled with an often a vigorous and hostile media campaign.

The 'loud approach' as a permanent style of advocacy is rare, as it signals that relationships and trust have collapsed. Government will only support the EO's policy aim if absolutely required by political pressure. It is not advised as a sustainable permanent strategy.

There are many cases of a mixture of styles. A more forthright approach is needed on certain issues. So the EO is more vigorous that usual – but is careful to maintain relationships.

Political realities will dictate the style of advocacy an EO takes. In countries with a tradition of strong central government, an overtly hostile approach to advocacy can be seriously detrimental to the EO's overall objective.

When should an EO take a loud approach?
  • When the quiet approach has demonstrably been shown not to work. In making this judgment the EO would need to be able to present to its Board concrete examples of how its evidence based proposals have not gained traction with government.
  • A more aggressive approach is required on an issue of fundamental importance to the business community.
  • The strength of the case. If the EO feels it has a strong case to make and which is also capable of gaining wider support.
  • The political climate is favorable.  
  • When there is no real choice. Relationships are non-existent with government, so the EO feels it has no other choice but to be vocally confrontational. 
  • As a way to brand the EO in the minds of the business community and wider public.

(1) Guide Three Advocacy Effective Employers' Organization Series ACTEMP 2005.

(2) Peter Anderson, Chief Executive of the, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) (quoted in IOE Annual Report 2007).