By Jane Thurlow
Building influence is critical for organisations with a social or environmental agenda, whether commercial, NGO or institutional. Managing reputations has been Sue Wolstenholme’s (Ashley Public Relations) life’s work and we were lucky enough to hear her thoughts at a recent workshop. We’ve been reflecting after the session on six items for your influencing agenda.
- Shape your message: Have something to say and make it relevant. Without it other people will fill the gap with their own interpretation – of the issue you want to communicate – and of you.
- Understand who you’re talking to: Identify your influential audiences (they could be decision makers, advisors, funders, journalists or others). Get to know them: their interests and concerns, the things they enjoy and the issues they face. Step into their shoes and see things from their perspective.
- Find common ground: Be proactive in building relationships: where do your interests overlap? Build the conversation from here. Show interest and listen as well as talk, evolve your understanding together.
- Be strict with your time: Set measurable objectives from the start, in terms of numbers of relationships, in specific areas for particular purposes (with specific people if you can). Set time periods or else it can drift as you busily meet crowds at events and follow them up.
- Build the consensus: Bring together ‘coalitions’ of like-minded organisations and individuals and convene the conversation. You can’t do it alone. Amplify and build your message with the voices of those who share your concerns.
- Change opinion: By building a shared understanding, and creating the space for dialogue you will build the momentum for change. Aim to shape the debate with others, and build a shared sense of direction among your audiences to influence structural change.
Sue knows influence is all about relationships. Having a clear message is important, but getting to know those you want to bring with you and developing a dialogue is essential to shape the debate and build consensus. Working through the 6 items on your influence agenda provides a targeted approach to influence, built on robust relationships and shared understanding. Time to get talking …
Sue Wolstenholme is MD of Ashley Public Relations Ltd and has been working at a senior level in public relations for over twenty years. She is currently involved in advising on crisis issues for national public and private sector bodies.
Jane Thurlow has over 20 years experience working in research, strategy, innovation and marketing in the commercial and charity sectors.