Magonova and Partners

The Real-time law: how bills are created and promoted

The Real-time law: how bills are created and promoted

In a column for Obozrevatel, Anastasia Magonova told about the stages of the strategy development:

Laws, just like the politicians need PR. Before the Verkhovna Rada adopts the Draft Law, it passes  a long way from the initial concept to the vote. On this "path" the project can change radically. How does a PR specialist work with laws, and how many people does it take to write the text of a bill?

How laws are made?

It’s not usual for the Draft Law to be created by one person This is always a collective work, for example, of the legal department of a government institution. At the same time, the core team of whom?) can and should consult with various organizations and business associations, which propose their amendments and harmonize the Draft Law with the general legislation.

The work on the Draft Law lasts about a year: each small stage of its creation takes time and effort. Also, when developing a law, its creators immediately calculate the mechanism of its practical implementation. These aspects take the most time to create, clarify and synchronize. For example, the Draft Law is published on the Verkhovna Rada’s website only after it’s been officially registered.

This is an important stage, lawyers and PR specialists should think in advance who, how, and when will register the project.

Next comes the distribution to the committees of the Verkhovna Rada, which will consider the Draft Law, establishing for whom it is profile. Then the meeting of the profile subcommittee and subsequently – of the committee takes place. Only after this can the law be submitted for the first reading.

It usually takes about four or even five months between registration and the First Reading. The quite challenging  time for the Draft Law  is after the First Reading because this is the stage of amendments. If someone wants to challenge or "drown" a bill, he proposes ten thousand amendments for the review. Therefore, those who wrote the law are forced to plunge into legal work for several months, defend each wording and find compromises: both with the committee that considers the amendments and with the stakeholder who proposed them.

Finally, the stage of the Second Reading comes and, if all is well, the Draft Law  is submitted for the signature to the chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, and then to the President. Without this process, the Draft Law cannot come into force. If the project has reached the final stage, the likelihood that the president will use his veto right is negligible. Usually, the President is aware about what laws are being passed by the committees and without government’s support they can hardly pass. But it may happen that the law will be ignored by the president, and its signing will be delayed.

So, before the registration and after the bill is considered by various committees of Verkhovna Rada: general and secondary ones. Also, according to the regulations, each of the committees receives additional conclusions from their stakeholders: government bodies, various institutions, and so on. It is important for a PR specialist that all the deputies who may or may not support it know about the new law.

When PR specialists come into play?

Public relations professionals take the first step as soon as an idea for the Draft Law comes up. In this case, the PR of the Draft Law can be "external" and "internal". External communication is aimed at a wide range of people, and at first, there is in fact  no need for it, since the Draft Law can change drastically  until it even comes to the First Reading. However, each law is a set of practical changes, and it is important to understand from the context at whom these changes will be aimed in the first place, who is genuinely interested in them, and who will insist on maintaining the status quo.

However, there is also an internal PR aimed at the members of the Parliament, politicians, international organizations, and other interested stakeholders, in a word, everyone who can somehow influence the work on the Draft Law and its approval or disapproval by the Parliament. The task of a PR specialist is to find as many stakeholders as possible, communicate properly the Draft Law to them and get support, for example, from business associations, public associations, and members of the Parliament.

The principle of work of a PR professional on the law is the same as in the case of any other project. We conduct social analysis, develop a communication strategy for each stage: prior to registration, for the First Reading, for the Second Reading, and afterwards.

Features of internal and external PR

External PR is always one-way communication since it does not involve an active request for feedback. This is a big campaign with a focus on it. Not all laws require bright external lighting, but  it’s different for the large-scale projects or those that break the usual order of things. Highly specialized laws that do not affect a wide range of people do not need a massive external campaign since they usually do not generate great social interest and response.

Another thing is the laws that are applicable to everyone. Legalization of medical cannabis, sale of land, bureau of economic security – these are issues that resonate and affect the whole society. Therefore, they need an external PR and wide public support. If this is an unpopular decision in advance, PR professionals should go out with the message first to make the wave of the negative social feedback manageable.

But internal PR always takes place within the framework of a dialogue Its main purpose is to meet and educate stakeholders by providing the most relevant and updated information. Besides, the outcome of the work with each stakeholder should include their official position towards the Draft Law, such as letter of support, proposals to the Draft Law, participation in the PR campaign.

The lion's share of a PR specialist's job is processing large amounts of information. Because any law at the material level is a huge amount of documents. Importantly, not all stakeholders understand what these papers say and are able to quickly understand how the Draft Law will work when passed mostly because this is not quite their specialization. Therefore, the PR specialist needs to make short and understandable brochures of 4-5 pages that can be handed out and used in presentations. Education of stakeholders and clarification of what exactly the new Draft Law proposes and how it will be implemented in practice plays a huge role. Minimizing discrepancies in understanding the law is one of the main goals of PR.

Features of the Draft Laws PR in Ukraine

The modern market requires the active collaboration of PR specialists with the legal team that creates laws. When we realized this, we immediately started looking for the people who can communicate with the Members of Parliament, draw and keep a communication map, maintain  an informational database, and simultaneously monitor the work on the Draft Law and its PR campaign. It turned out that there were no such people in Ukraine.

Moreover, we faced enormous difficulties in trying to understand the procedure of  passing the law. Various deputies described this process in different ways to the extent that the words of one person contradicted the words of another. So we had to figure it out on our own from scratch. Then we realized that GR lacked competent project management, and decided to offer such a service.

Coming to the PR of bills, it is important to remember that there are no black and white – unequivocal "friends" and "enemies". The PR actively cooperates with opponents, and they can support as well as oppose? the bill for their reasons.

Each law is working with all stakeholders, in fact, from the very beginning. It is not always possible to envisage support by committee or voting. Here, it is crucial, to take into account the interests of each stakeholder, and the internal basis of their interest, as well as how actively they are ready to protect them.

Besides, the communication between the ministries and political forces is heavily based on personal relationships. However, a need to be prepared for the fact that allies and opponents will violate agreements – this is a common situation.

Campaign preparation and time management are of great importance. Especially considering that other ministries or parties may prepare a similar Draft Law or specifically register an alternative law to knock down or, at least, slow down the consideration of the law. If you don't think over a strategy and start a campaign without the proper preparation, the natural advantage will be on the side of the "competitors".

When working on bills, do not underestimate your opponents. It is always important to remember about possible law alternatives and be critical of your work. As a result,  it will be difficult for the opponents to offer a more interesting alternative. So, the main mistake of PR people is overconfidence.

It is important, even before starting a PR campaign, to consult with the lawyers working on the project, who will explain the main provisions and novels of the law itself, and also suggest who can be “for” and who is “against” this project. Such meeting with lawyers greatly simplifies the work of a PR specialist and makes the context clear.

The ideal team for working on the law is lawyers, PR specialists, a project manager in charge of the timeline, and a person responsible for the business relations is also needed. Roughly speaking, the team can be divided into three parts. The first part consists of  those who will communicate with ministries and committees, politicians. The second part are those who will collect and analyze the edits, work on the law from a legal point of view. Last but not least, the third part of the team consists of the specialists who will communicate with the audience, who is influenced by the law: with business, the international community, and the like. The project manager unites the team and supervises its work.

Previously, the management was carried out by lawyers or lobbyists, but now the situation is changing. People with the experience in areas where there is a habit of structural processes and constant clear deadlines, for example, IT, come to project management. More often than not, they are even better at management than politicians or lawyers. So a structured approach to data and the ability to work with the interests of opponents, if not outweighing "personal relationships", at least become no less valuable in communication.