It seems that the position paper is about as standard issue as a BMW 320D or a Blackberry Bold for the public affairs professional in this town. You simply would not leave for a meeting without one. I think it’s time to change all that. It’s time to throw away the rather haggard old position paper and replace it with the shiny new ‘Benefits Statement’. Ta-dah!
No, I’m not saying that we all need to be made unemployed; something which UK nationals may associate with benefits statements. Just that one of the key public affairs document needs to be re-tooled and re-focused if it’s to do its primary job of helping convince our audience to go in our direction within any public policy debate.
There are of course good position papers and bad ones. Brevity good. German academic style papers with fifty million footnotes bad. A single point good. A list of twenty five things that are all equally important bad. General calls for support bad. Clear instruction on what to do if they support your point of view good.
My issue with the position paper is that given its name it’s a little hard to get past the general idea that it should all be about the organization writing it. What your organization thinks. How your organization is affected. While all these things are important to you, nine times out of ten I’m guessing they are not that important to the folks you’re trying to convince. So while you clearly need to work out what you think and why, when you come to putting it down on paper I’d suggest starting it’s time to focus your thoughts on the benefits for the people you’re trying to convince. What and who do they care about? Why is what you say important to them? Above and beyond persuading them you are right what are you going to say to make them act?
In thinking about these questions, I’ve come up with my own 4Ps of what policymakers care about in my humble view (see above). Clearly the emphasis one places on any one of the 4Ps depends on the assessment of the issue and the folks you are communicating to. However, I find it a useful starting point for thinking. I hope it’s of use to you too.