Being a successful professional advocate is a honed skill. Early in my career, I sought advice from leading industry lobbyists. I soon discovered that there is no magic wand, but there are some key strategies to being a top-notch lobbyist. Although, with further consideration, these tips spell success in almost any professional industry, not just government affairs.
Be the subject matter expert that your clients need.
It is your job to clearly understand your clients and properly articulate their positions, anticipate their needs, identify problems, and advise them accordingly. Spend time early in your relationship in a deep dive consuming as much information as possible about your client, their platforms, and goals. Credibility is key. If you are discussing a topic that is highly specialized in nature, ensure you do your research before making suggestions.
This is not the time to “fake it until you make it.”
Always have a game plan for the day.
Benjamin Franklin said, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Never walk into the General Assembly without a plan for the day. Understanding your priorities and knowing how to connect with legislators on the fly will help you stay productive when a legislative session does not go as planned.
Use the right tool for the job.
Not every legislator is persuaded with the same argument. As the adage states, you can’t use a flat head screwdriver for everything. Become a diagnostician so you can quickly assess the legislator’s position on an issue. This allows for you to be able to adjust your exchange and use the right tool (method) to sway his or her thought process.
Have patience in the micro.
If you want to have a long-term career as a lobbyist, you must harness the ability to be patient. Micro, for the purpose of this discussion, is at this moment; alternately, macro is the big picture. Legislators and their staff are extremely busy during legislative sessions. Legislative staff and legislators recognize patience. The issues you are pushing for may be fundamental to you and your client, but might not be what’s on the docket. Patience in the micro can give you additional leverage you may need once your issue is on the docket for discussion.
I recall a time where I had the opportunity to get a meeting with a legislator who was focused on the day’s voting at hand. By being situationally aware, I chose to be patient and pushed my meeting to the following day. By doing this, I got more time, clear attention, and she was appreciative of the courtesy which drove her support of my initiative.
Maintain a mindset of perseverance.
Understand that the first ‘no’ is just the start of a conversation. Often, legislators are too busy to want to make time for a new issue. Do not get discouraged, you’ll often have to work to help them understand the importance of your issue to move forward. This is where passion, patience, and persistence all come together.
Put more emphasis on being a tactician rather than just a strategist.
Before a legislative session starts, you need a strategy to set a vision along with specific steps, or tactics, to work towards the goal. While your strategy is set, you may need to re-evaluate your tactics on a regular basis to ensure success. Don’t be afraid to switch gears if you’re missing your marks. “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu
Integrity matters over everything.
At the end of the day, integrity is the only thing that matters. Politics is an emotional environment, and it’s easy to cut corners or exaggerate your facts to make your point. Become mentally disciplined enough to speak truth to power and defer an answer until you have the right information.
When it comes down to it, being a great lobbyist looks a lot like being a great person in general. Be a team player, work hard, maintain your integrity, and stay humble when you garnish success. Do the right things for the right reasons and don’t back down. Now, get after it!