To succeed in the influence game, special interests conduct opposition research (i.e., the process of identifying the weaknesses of those who may oppose you) whether it’s a specific opponent in an election or someone who disagrees with your policy position. To do the same, once you’ve identified who your competitors are and what you’re competing with them for, you’ll want to answer the following questions about their connections, interests and general background on the issue.
- Have they ever expressed an opinion on your cause or issues related to your cause? If so, what?
- What issues do they talk about, even if unrelated to your own? Knowing that will help you understand where they might start the attack. For example, a special interest opposed by an organization like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) can usually assume that the first “shot over the bow” will be on a “bill of rights” related issue.
- Do they have any key supporters? While in D.C. we might figure this out by finding out who contributed to their campaign (www.opensecrets.org), in the real world you might be able to find out whether your competition knows the decision maker you’re trying to reach, or knows anyone who knows that person.
- Who are their key opponents? You know the phrase “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”? While this has been described in the past as a Chinese or Arab proverb, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that it had originally been espoused by a Washington, D.C. special interest. It’s always a good idea to find and cultivate those who may also have an interest in seeing your competitors fail.
- What outlets do they use for delivering their side of the story? When you know where their arguments might be aired, you may be able to offer a rebuttable early. In addition, knowing their favorite outlets will help you know what aspects of an issue most interest them or what side they’re likely to come at you from. In the lobbying world, knowing that an opponent uses Fox News as opposed to MSNBC to deliver a message will tell you a great deal about their general perspective.
Knowing all this will help you achieve one of the most important goals in effective influence: know where your opposition WILL BE, not where they are. The analogy that helps me understand this principle relates to my efforts to learn underwater photography skills. I’m an avid scuba diver and really wanted to take beautiful pictures of the underwater world I love so much. However, I was wholly unsuccessful, mainly because I took pictures of where the fish was, not where it was going to be. I never really learned how to figure out where the fish would be going, but I did learn how to apply this tactic to influence efforts in Washington, D.C. You can learn more about this tactic in The Influence Game, which you just have to order by April 20th or you’ll miss out on all the freebies!
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