The reinvention of lobbying

Although many people in my profession may be in denial, the traditional role of government affairs offices and K Street lobby shops has been transformed.

Although many people in my profession may be in denial, the traditional role of government affairs offices and K Street lobby shops has been transformed.  

The Obama Administration and changes in House and Senate rules are partly responsible for this transformation, which aims to make lobbying more transparent. But the real driver of this change is the democratization of communications. Every citizen is a potential lobbyist, organizer, or citizen advocate.

The shoe leather lobbyist hasn't disappeared – in some ways, understanding "the ways of Washington” is a higher value for clients today than ever. But, the fact is that the lobbying rules in place, along with social networking, and the unprecedented access and conversations that citizens can have with their representatives has transformed our democracy. Public affairs shops have to understand that.

That means a greater role for traditional grass tops and grassroots organizers, but increasingly it requires the use of microtargeting and digital platforms to organize citizens and create advocates in precise jurisdictions.

And here's where political organizing meets consumer behavior. Sophisticated databases, such as Catalist, which was used by the Obama campaign (and similarly positioned Republican-leaning databases), have combined voting lists and behavior with publicly available consumer data. This creates analytical models that can "predict" the likelihood of an individual in Sioux Falls being for or against an issue or whether they might help lead a community – real and online – of like-minded people, move issues like healthcare, or pack a town hall meeting. 

They can tell us where voters live and how best to reach them with media, marketing, neighborhood doorknockers, and word of mouth. The most effective lobbyists will be those who know how to open doors in Washington and how to get people to care in Sioux Falls. Put the two together and we are reinventing our profession.  

Lane Bailey is president of global public affairs for GolinHarris.

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