In The Subtle Art of Lobbying the Chinese Government , Alistair Nicholas of Off The Record posted on our post on how to lobby the Chinese government. Nicholas noted something very important I left out in my post. Our post focused on who to lobby and the logistics of lobbying, but it left out what to say to get the government to go along. Off The Record filled in that missing element rather well:
My key learning over 20 odd years of lobbying both successfully and, sometimes, unsuccessfully across three countries are that politicians the world over are all the same. If you want them to support your cause you need to figure out what’s in it for them and offer a deal they can’t refuse. I’m not talking about delivering brown paper bags stuffed with cash or other bribes.
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Before you approach a politician for help you need to (with apologies to John F. Kennedy) ask not what your government can do for you but rather what you can do for your government. This is the same in China as in rest of the world – I have case studies aplenty to prove it.
According to Nicholas, this means “coming up with an out-of-the box creative, sustainable solution to a real problem faced by the government bureau, department, ministry or minister that you need help from.” Your job is to come up with “a solution that will make the stakeholder look good in front of its relevant constituency and you will have won the support of that key government player.”
Nicholas is absolutely right.
A multinational retail company once asked me what it should do to assure success in a particular big city in an emerging market country — not China. Based on reports given to me by businesspeople who had succeeded in this city, I told the client it needed to keep the mayor happy by doing something like funding a new hospital or orphanage wing and make sure the good mayor got all kinds of publicity for helping bring about such a great event. My client would have none of this and for the first year or so it was in this country it encountered legal problem after legal problem. It eventually did what I initially had suggested and its legal problems quickly disappeared.
So when trying to advance your agenda in China, or anywhere else for that matter, it pays to think win win. Or as Nicholas puts it, “it’s never just about asking for a favour.”