To some outside the world of advocacy, 'lunches' still have the stigma of being an excuse to take an afternoon off work. Today, professional lunches with government and opposition staff help to forge strong working relationships and solve specific problems.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to make lunches a successful part of your advocacy campaign.
Keep briefings brief
Amidst the food, drink and light conversation it's critical that the purpose of your lunch meeting isn't lost '“ to ensure the invited staffers receive your key messages loud and clear. To achieve this, it's important to limit your briefing to one or two main points and to make sure that your guests only have to remember these key takeaways.
Check if the office has a policy
It's important to remember that some offices have policies when it comes to staff being taken to lunch. Some may allow for brief coffee catch ups only, while others may have a 'no alcohol' policy. Some informal research prior to an invitation may help avoid your advocacy targets being put in an awkward situation.
Expand your network
It's understandable that the funnest lunches are with staff with whom you've already formed a good relationship, where there's no need for formality or onerous introductions. The risk is that your advocacy network stagnates and when particular staffers move on - as they often do - you're forced to start the process all over again. Use the current good relationships you have with political staffers to grow your network by extending the invite to your contacts' colleagues.
Be aware of others' awareness
Journalists who write political gossip columns love visiting some of the better-known restaurants in capital cities, simply to find content for their daily splash. While Ministers and Members of Parliament are more used to this, staffers don't like to be noticed, especially if it reflects badly on their boss.
Think about where you take your guests to dine. Often times a more secluded or lesser-known eatery is safer than a well-known restaurant where your simple lunch meeting may be a target for prying eyes.
Don't substitute them for formal meetings
Lunch meetings are an extremely useful tactic as part of a broader advocacy campaign. They're particularly handy for providing important information to decision makers, offering a solution or providing background to a particular issue.
Despite this, it's important to maintain your formal approach, scheduling Ministerial meetings with the relevant department and using informal dining with staff as a complementary strategy to enhance your messaging and overall advocacy.