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If it’s so obvious, why do we still get it wrong?


There is a lot of talk about the importance of advocacy for organisations and companies alike.

We see almost universal acknowledgment about the importance of building relationships with external and internal stakeholders. Yet, many organisations suffer from an inability to build support around their work and positions. There are many reasons for that, but the majority fall into distinct categories, which one might call the seven cardinal sins of advocacy.

1. Not listening (or not engaging before listening)

We all assume we know our customers, stakeholders, and media influencers — yet often we have a very selective listening process. This is wholly understandable from a cognitive perspective: we are biased by our vision of the company or organisation we represent. Yet to be able to really drive effective advocacy strategy, we need to understand our stakeholders and their view in a holistic manner. This will avoid pitfalls and help tailor communications channels and approaches.

2. Being driven by activities not outcomes

“What should we do with this report?” or “We have always had this committee – how can we use it for advocacy?” These sorts of questions probably sound familiar. We are often confronted with legacy activities and have a tendency to lean towards what is there already. Yet this sets us up for failure as it means we are not thinking about what we need to achieve. The shift in mindset towards thinking about outcomes first can help us to focus and to be more critical about the efficiency of our activities.

3. Making assumptions about the landscape

The policy and influencer environment is evolving faster than any organisation trying to adapt to it. This means we need to constantly evaluate our positioning against the changes in the discourse and (international) agenda. This again requires a discipline and ability to burst the myths surrounding the issues. Otherwise, we might lose relevance and licence to operate without even realising.

4. Confusing strategic narrative with storytelling

The most natural thing to do for communicators is to…communicate. And there is plenty of proof that stories are the best way to connect with the target audiences, but stories are just the means to pass on messages. They need to be based on strategic narratives. And strategic narratives need to be based on an understanding of the influencing landscape and driven by organisational purpose. Logic and simplicity are the key here: we need to know what we want to achieve before starting to communicate.

5. Developing different messages for different target groups

It is tempting to be very tailored with our communications. Digital and social media tools allow very precise targeting of messages and content. However, this comes with a danger. People are “rebellious” and don’t necessarily consume the information and content on the channel that has been designed for them. As a result, having any inconsistency in the core messaging might harm the trust of stakeholders towards the organisation.

6. Forgetting about internal stakeholders

Employees always emerge as those who are the most trusted when talking about a company or an organisation yet often the advocacy approaches are driven top-down and are not inclusive of employees. This creates confusion and damages their sense of belonging so it is crucial to design engagement strategies in such a way that employees can champion advocacy approaches in a proactive manner.

7. Failing to measure and report

What gets measured, gets done, runs an old saying and it is very relevant for advocacy too. Advocacy is often seen as an opaque activity which receives little real scrutiny in an organisation, so it is important to prove its value by showcasing its impact on the business results. It requires discipline and the creation of a common framework. Once they are in place, they can and should be used to prove the value of advocacy.

Avoiding these cardinal sins doesn’t guarantee the success of an advocacy strategy. However, in our experience, committing any of them usually leads to problems, and the consequent need for adjustment and reset.

Lukasz Bochenek

Managing Director / Deputy CEO, based in Geneva

Lukasz is Managing Director for Switzerland, Belgium and UK offices as well as deputy CEO for Leidar. He oversees key international client projects and relationships. In addition, he manages external partnerships and memberships of Leidar. 

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