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.”

  • chinainspection

    If we exclude money and women, relationship and face do play important role in the lobbying.
    Bribe works universally, other factor like a Win-win solution is case specific.
    I hate to admit it, but mostly they just need money and women.

  • you can’t beat the classics. make them an offer they can’t refuse

  • Steven Blayney

    “I hate to admit it, but mostly they just need money and women.”
    How ’bout a good book and a good cup of coffee?
    Or a foot massage with some of that T1bet*n Rmb 65 herbal mix to soak your feet in?

  • This thread is troubling for so many ways, but in my experience of working with around 20 different government agencies in China I have found one golden rule that works.
    you must offer something of real value for there to be success.
    Putting lipstick on a pig isn’t going to cut it here, and taking government officials is not going to guarantee anything at all.
    I will admit that I do not close every deal I present to the government, and that at times was frustrating, but not every government (city) needs the snow balls you are selling.
    Shanghai is different than Chendgu… Suzhou is different than Changsha… just gotta know what each wants/ needs to succeed.
    A good overall example of how to manage GR is GE. They are a strong company with products that various cities need. their company has a strong reputation for being a good company , that treats employees well, that has a good community investment program,etc… and that gets them a long way in China… can SIEMENS say the same? they got caught bribing officials… and look where they got them.
    with regard to building a school. that is equally worthless, and I gotta say that I am a bit offended that it was even suggested. Using CSR as a government relations tools is not only shallow in every sense, and in the end a company with a good reputation will get the deal anyway.