Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Why the lobbyist of the future will never step inside the Capitol

AGRP October 21, 2015Robert Hay Jr.

In 2015, the stereotypical lobbyist is gone. Because of ethics rules and a changing profession, gone are the days of steak dinners and all-day golf trips for many lobbyists and government-relations professionals.

The new normal is cattle-call fundraisers, five minutes with staff in a hallway, and the hope that a congressional aide will retweet your company’s 140 character message. While there are some super-lobbyists and unregistered lobbyists who can still live the old-fashioned lifestyle, most of us have to adjust to a Congress overwhelmed with communication from the outside and struggling to work through the major issues that face the country.

In the near future, a “lobbyist” will never have to step inside the Capitol or a congressional office building. The trends already point in this direction – the number of registered lobbyists is declining, while the number of virtual messages to congressional offices continues to rise.

While research from the Congressional Management Foundation documents the advantages of in-person meetings over virtual outreach, the ability to get a meeting outside of a fundraiser is a challenge, especially if a constituent or key individual from your company is not in town. True, a lobbyist’s connections if he or she worked on the Hill can help, but with the average tenure on Capitol Hill at 18 months, those connections can disappear quickly.

The New GR Professional

The next generation of lobbyists has a much different background than its peers. For millennials (and whatever we officially decide to call the generation that follows), activism will have always been driven by social media. The major social and political movements of the past few years were products of the Internet: Social media and the Internet are the impetus and the tools to move opinions and action on an issue.

Pulling together a rally no longer requires a meeting and a phone tree – now all you need is a few texts, a hashtag, and a link to Google Maps. The next generation of GR professionals won’t be battle hardened professionals, sweating it out in a stuffy office. They’ll be crafting messages—and immediately pushing them out to a highly engaged, highly motivated audiences ready to take (mostly virtual) action.

Does this mean all in-person meetings will be a thing of the past? No, but increasingly they could be farmed out to lobbying firms that promote their ability to arrange meetings with staff and Members. Instead, in-house lobbyists and government relations staff would focus on messaging, technology and grassroots engagement.

Because Message Matters

This allows associations to recruit tech-savvy employees who can pull double duty—as both government relations professionals as well as work with “traditional” association functions, such as marketing and public relations.

This emergent model will force associations to rethink how they craft their metrics and their members’ expectations. No longer will “met with X number of officials” work for performance reviews (nor, arguably, should it). Instead, performance may be measured by the number of hits on a microsite or photo submissions with the correct hashtag.

This future is already here. Association GR offices are now full of unregistered lobbyists and government relations professionals who will never visit the Capitol except on constituent tours – and perhaps that’s not actually all that bad.

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