I was recently speaking with a lobbyist that works with a client. The lobbyist was explaining his role, not only on behalf of my client but also more generally, including his job description and goals. He stressed that while most people think a lobbyist strictly influences laws or policies to benefit a company or organization, the role entails much more. In his description, he details a job that starts with forming relationships, and continues by serving as a resource, educating, and, yes, influencing policies with lawmakers that are already interested in certain issues or outcomes.
Ask most people what they think about lobbyists and they may share a negative reaction. Like lawyers and used car salesmen, lobbyists have a PR problem. But also like lawyers and used car salesmen, lobbyists face negativity that isn’t always warranted or fair, and we can all admit that they are needed and helpful in certain life situations. Unfortunately, just like the old adage, a few rotten apples spoil the bunch.
Anyone that has been in PR for a certain amount of time knows we face similar hurdles with public perception. But during the conversation with the lobbyist, I was struck by many other similarities between PR and lobbying.
First, the job truly does start with relationships. For PR people, the definition of “relationship” is broad and can include meeting for drinks, discussions on social channels, chit chat about life before an interview, or always delivering on promises, like sources. Quite frankly, the best way to form a relationship with a journalist is to make sure he or she is relevant to your pitch, always serve up a good idea and always meet a promised deadline.
Beyond forming relationships, the successful PR person also serves as a resource and educates, which plays a large role in keeping a relationship strong. Many times, a journalist will come to a PR contact to ask for insight into an issue or a connection to a source. With that in mind, a valuable PR person has a network of contacts that can help address both, even if that doesn’t include a client. It also pays off to be an expert in your clients’ industries so that you can help should a journalist have a question, including details on technology, breaking news within the industry and relevant topics and trends. Educating and serving as a resource means delivering on insight and sources that are beneficial to the journalist and his or her readers.
Once a relationship is established and you’ve consistently served as a resource, then you can influence by providing a compelling angle to an issue that the journalist’s readers will care about and by providing a full package, such as data and other sources.
During my conversation, the lobbyist mentioned that the biggest challenge to his job is getting someone’s attention on an issue. He’s competing with thousands of other people – not just other lobbyists but other politicians and their constituents across the country. And in today’s world, there are many important issues happening every single day that need discussion and consideration by government officials. It’s critical to stand apart from the noise.
The conversation was a good reminder about how to do that.