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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lobbying as a Public Relations tool

The concept of lobbying is not a new phenomena by any means and was first used in the early 19th century in the United States. In simple terms lobbying can be described as a sort of advocacy carried for the purpose of influencing decisions, particularly with respect to politics and state level decisions, as off today such forms of lobbying practices are still the more prominent of the lot. Some lobby groups have taken up social causes as a part of their agenda to promote knowledge sharing and different types of social welfare causes. On the other hand prominent lobby groups in the United States proactively make use of lobbying to influence the decision makers at state level to serve their respective interest groups or stakeholders. These include lobbyists to influence foreign policy, in favor of a certain foreign country or to increase the amount of foreign aid a respective country is receiving. Such lobby groups can also support improved ties with a certain nation for the purpose of improving trade and commerce.

The use of lobbying is not just restricted to the political arena and the realm of international relations, it has significant relevance even for the businesses in the commercial sector as a fairly effective public relations tool. This can exist in the form of engagement between corporations and the public sector, as well as between corporations and consumers. Lobbying by corporations happen when they are trying to influence policies and regulations at the federal, provincial or regional level in an attempt to achieve policy changes suited to them. These policy changes come in the form of reduced taxation, infrastructural support or increased government assistance with regards to industry expertise.

The use of lobbying as a public relations tool is not just restricted to western countries like the United States and those found in the European Union, but the use of lobbying to influence policy can also be found in a country like Pakistan, even though the trend of using lobbying as a public relations tool or using public relations as a whole is far from becoming a common sight. By lobbying for policy change, corporations regardless of their sector are able to engage with relevant authorities directly and develop their public relations with wider audiences. Business lobby groups in a country like Pakistan have successfully managed to get the federal and provincial government in the country to develop policies that encourage and promote the development of trade. Such policies can also include the protection of certain industries to give them a competitive edge relative to their competitors.

 A good example is the lobbying done by the Auto Industry in Pakistan which successfully managed to get the government to introduce high tariffs on imported vehicles so as to make the locally manufactured vehicles more competitive for the end consumer as well as preserve the thousands of jobs the industry provides.  Examples of these trade lobby groups include the Karachi chamber of commerce and the Lahore chamber of commerce and industry. Some lobby groups exist to counteract the bad press that certain industries and improve their public relations. A good example is the tobacco industry which has often been accused of causing lung cancer and the deaths of thousands of people, they have managed to use their lobby groups to engage with wider audiences and build positive public relations for the industry as a whole. Even employee unions can be classified as lobby groups that work for the interest of their members with respect to matters of employee relations across their relevant industry.

Lobby groups in Pakistan are also very proactive when it comes to fighting for social causes such as women's rights and the treatment of minorities in this country. It was women's rights advocacy groups that played a significant role in getting women's protection laws passed by the federal government in Islamabad. The Pakistani media as a whole has been collectively functioning as a lobby group to influence Government level policies with respect to increased freedom of the press, as well as encouraging government spending in sectors like education and health care.

A lot has also changed as far as the dynamics of lobbying and the methods adopted by lobby groups are concerned. We live in an era of social media, which has played a significant role in the empowerment of of not just businesses on an individual individuals i.e. members of the public also around the world. A lot of lobbying activities are now beginning to take place online using social media, as social media makes it easy to reach a wider audience spread across the globe. A good example would be the online lobbying done by major corporations in the pharma sector who try to promote their patented drug globally while at the same time influencing health policies in certain countries into making it an acceptable drug.

Regardless of the benefits of lobbying as a public relations initiative, there are many challenges that lobby groups face and it will be a while before lobbying as a full fledged activity can develop and flourish in a country like Pakistan. First of all lobbying to a great extent involves shaping or changing public opinion off wider audiences, low literacy levels and the inability to reach the rural masses can create limitations for lobby groups in getting their message across. Alongside these limitations there are also concerns with respect to public safety, poor law and order, corruption and inefficiency of public sector institutions that make lobbying for commercial or social causes even more challengi

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