Telos A&S: Lobbying Activities to Unlock the Potential of SMEs
Interview with Marco Sensini, partner of Telos A&S, an independent professional firm for lobbying, public affairs and political analysis, supporting companies in the relevant decision-making processes and positioning vis-à-vis institutions.
From left: Flavia Trupia (Associazione Per La Retorica), Marco Sonsini (Telos A&S), Marco Di Maio (deputato) Rosaria Iardino (Fondazione The Bridge), Paolo Zanenga (Diotima Society).
In an increasingly competitive world, how important is it to have a thorough, detailed knowledge of market information (scenarios, legislative context, etc.)?
Knowing and being able to accurately interpret the environment in which one operates is instrumental for the success of a company. We believe this principle to be valid not just for market dynamics, but also in the political, institutional and regulatory context. To put it briefly: the political agenda of the current government, the distribution of power among the state, regional authorities and local authorities, and the initiatives of parliamentary groups can make the difference between creating or breaking down constraints on economic activities. That’s why an important part of our work as lobbying consultants consists precisely in making our analytical skills available to companies. It’s not just about the classic "recognition of sector regulations" - using this as our starting point, we try to give customers a perspective on the future, on how legislation may evolve according to the priorities of relevant decision-makers and to the ability of stakeholders to put forward their requests.
How important is it to know the status of regulatory processes at each stage and identify decision makers and influencers to establish the best public affairs strategy?
Lobbying activity is not about "channeling messages" to institutions, it’s about submitting concrete proposals to them for the modification of sector legislation. In this respect, knowing what proposals for regulatory intervention are already under discussion (laws, government regulations, ministerial decrees, regional council decisions, etc.) and being aware of which institutions are responsible for taking decisions on a specific matter, is an essential precondition for developing credible proposals and presenting them promptly. To give an example from our own experience: a proposal to change national rules to improve competition in tenders for the supply of off-patent biological medicines (to what extent anyone who enters the market after a patent has expired can subtract from the market share of the incumbent) was taken into consideration because it was presented during the works of the Ministry of Economic Development’s Supply Chain Working Group, which had tender competition on its agenda. Submitting it after the activity of the Working Group had finished would not have produced the same effect.
Small and medium-sized enterprises often run the risk of their demands being underestimated at the level of institutional dialogue. Why?
If this question were asked of the top ranks in public administration, the answer would be: "The problem is not that we don’t listen to small and medium-sized businesses, but that they don’t communicate with us". This may sound provocative, but we can prove that it is not. In fact in 2016, the Ministry of Economy and Finance tried to start a dialogue with a selection of SMEs to identify the most effective industrial policy strategies and regulatory measures to promote their growth and internationalisation. This would have been an opportunity for a few selected SMEs to have a direct influence on the industrial policy agenda of the Government in office. Do you know how many SMEs agreed to participate in the dialogue? One. The initiative has been shelved. The truth is that if SMEs want their requests to be heard by the institutions, they must first accept the idea that lobbying is a fundamental part of their business: size is no excuse.
Above: Mariella Palazzolo and Marco Sonsini of Telos A&S
So, what activities can be undertaken to increase their significance and have more influence in writing European laws, regulations and directives?
Monitoring institutional activities, analysing regulatory changes that affect their sector, structuring proposals and presenting them to the competent decision-makers, drafting position papers and actual regulatory drafts may appear unsustainable for a single, small business. But these activities are essential if you want to participate in defining the market rules rather than submitting to them. They can be carried out by coalitions of companies, on a sectoral or territorial basis depending on circumstances. The role of the lobbying consultant is precisely to support companies, large or small, in this effort, by offering them the experience and skills that they may lack.
The European single market has offered significant commercial opportunities to small Italian companies but is greatly constrained by European and Member State decisions from a legislative point of view. How can these rapidly-changing elements be managed in the best possible way?
The most effective way to manage change is to take part in it, to help shape it. Unfortunately, a widespread attitude in many entrepreneurial businesses (whatever their size, to be honest) is to view regulatory constraints as an immutable fact; it is clear that if we accept this assumption, any dialogue with the institutions becomes, at best, an opportunity to complain about the state of things. What many companies may not know is that "public decision makers" expect businesses to give a contribution: most of the time, decisions that impose unreasonable constraints or burdens on a sector are either made in ignorance of actual market conditions, or are the result of having heard only one of the interests involved.
Could you give us an example?
A European regulation made it mandatory for maritime operators to use the pilotage service provided by port operators for manoeuvres in and out of ports; in other words, any boat above a certain size was not authorised to "manoeuvre" without a pilot from the local port services company on board and in command. Absurd, isn't it? Maybe. Definitely a rule that perpetuated the monopoly of certain port consortia, to the detriment of shipping companies and, frankly, common sense. This is a classic example of an unbalanced regulation in favour of a particular interest, but the European Commission, approached by a coalition of maritime operators when the regulation was being revised, agreed on the need for liberalisation. In short, a regulatory change cannot be "managed", but if the tools and procedures are known it can be "promoted" in a transparent and constructive dialogue with those who make the decisions.
Lobbying works, but you have to make the effort.