Lobbying and Public Affairs

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Both lobbying and public affairs play crucial roles in shaping policy and protecting interests ranging from taxation to environmental regulations. As strategies and tactics evolve due to national and global changes, one thing remains the same: government affairs professionals still need to deliver results for the interests they represent. Find out how to stay on top of legislative developments, connect with policymakers and their staff, and identify trending issues to help you drive the agenda and shape public opinion.

What are the different types of lobbying?

Lobbying, also called government affairs or government relations, is a lawful form of political participation in which groups seek to influence government officials, such as legislators or members of regulatory agencies. Lobbying activities vary from discussions with government representatives to negotiating the details of a bill to organizing grassroots campaigns. Lobbyists work for businesses, trade associations, and other organizations that want someone to advocate for government policies on their behalf.

There are many types, but lobbying can be categorized into three main areas:

  1. Direct lobbying involves direct communication with policymakers such as legislators or government officials. Depending on the issue, lobbyists may focus on federal, state, or international government officials.
  2. Grassroots lobbying focuses on influencing the general public to reach out to their elected representatives and policymakers about a certain issue by calling, writing, or meeting with them. This type of lobbying aims to build public support and pressure decision-makers through the constituents to whom they’re ultimately accountable.
  3. Campaign contributions play an important role in lobbying. Interest groups may donate to political candidates or parties, helping certain candidates fund their campaigns in return for access to decision-makers and support on a particular issue when and if they are elected.

What is the difference between lobbying and public affairs?

Public affairs, like public relations, helps to ensure that businesses have a way to build relationships and communicate their interests to relevant stakeholders, especially concerning new policies and regulations.

Public affairs is broader than lobbying or government affairs. It encompasses an organization’s overall efforts to influence public opinion through public relations, media relations, and community outreach. Public affairs officials build relationships with policymakers, industry groups, associations, media, and other stakeholders to educate the public about certain positions.

There is much overlap between lobbying and public affairs, but the two are distinct. Lobbying has a narrower scope and is regulated in many countries. In the U.S., lobbying activities must be disclosed under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, while the Foreign Agents Registration Act requires people representing foreign interests – which can include domestic lobbying or advocacy for foreign governments, organizations, or people – to publicly disclose their relationships, activities, and compensation to the Department of Justice. By contrast, public affairs efforts aren’t regulated in the same way.

What is a public affairs strategy?

A public affairs strategy is a planned approach that organizations, companies, or interest groups take to influence public opinion or shape policy decisions. The strategy involves engaging stakeholders such as the public, government officials, policymakers, media, and community groups. The strategy itself can vary widely, depending on the goals and type of organization.

Why use a public affairs strategy?

With a public affairs strategy, companies and organizations seek to influence policies that affect their interests. A public affairs strategy also helps organizations to manage their reputation by giving them a way to communicate their values, positions, and contributions that ideally builds trust and credibility. Being proactive with a public affairs strategy can also mitigate potential risks, regulatory hurdles, and shifting public sentiment.

Why is it important to have a public affairs strategy?

Companies, organizations, and industries must build trust and credibility with their customers, the public, legislators, media, and other stakeholders. A public affairs strategy helps to manage those relationships and ensure that groups are protecting and promoting their interests while also meeting the obligations to and expectations of the public.

How to develop an effective public affairs strategy

A comprehensive public affairs strategy starts with identifying the key issue or challenge; then mapping out and analyzing relevant stakeholders; and finally crafting messages to communicate the positions, values, and desired outcomes. Public affairs activities include lobbying, advocacy and relationship-building with key stakeholders, and continuous monitoring of the political landscape. It also includes working with media and communications to disseminate messages to the broader public.

Identify public policy objectives

Start by articulating the objectives of your strategy: what you wish to achieve. This could be influencing specific policies, shaping public opinion, building relationships with specific stakeholders, or fixing reputational issues.

Assemble a stakeholder team

Identify the relevant stakeholders who have influence on the objectives. Stakeholders may include government officials, policymakers, industry or trade associations, media, community groups, nonprofits, think tanks, or advocacy organizations. Assess their positions and potential collaboration or opposition.

Create a public engagement plan

This could encompass lobbying, advocacy, media relations, and communications. Lobbying and advocacy efforts can vary from meetings with legislators to building coalitions with other like-minded organizations. Media and communications plans help to disseminate key public messages through press releases, social media campaigns, and public events. Messaging needs to be consistent throughout.

Determine campaign metrics to track

Campaign objectives should be measurable. That way, you can track progress and assess if the strategy is reaching objectives, or if you need to shift your strategy or tactics. First, decide what key performance indicators (KPIs) to track. Some common KPIs include earned media impressions, reach, and engagement on social media platforms. Surveys and polls can help gauge awareness and changes in attitudes, perceptions, and other metrics related to a campaign’s key messages. KPIs can also track policy impact by monitoring the adoption of relevant policies, regulations, or laws. Regardless of the metrics chosen, it’s important to check back regularly to refine the strategy, adapt accordingly, and measure the ongoing effectiveness of a campaign.

Real-world examples of successful public affairs strategies

A successful strategy requires strategic thinking, careful planning, effective execution, and flexibility to adapt to the ever-changing political and public landscape.

Because public affairs campaigns involve so many stakeholders and moving pieces – from grassroots outreach to media relations to direct lobbying – strategies vary greatly. Some may start with public relations while others start with government affairs.

Grassroots recall campaign in California

Recall elections can be difficult to carry out, and the process can be expensive and lengthy. Through a coordinated grassroots advocacy effort, a group of San Bernardino business owners and residents were able to successfully get a recall election on the ballot in 2014. After the municipality filed for bankruptcy in 2012, the group mobilized a public outreach effort to inform voters of the issue, collect signatures, recruit candidates to challenge the incumbents, and maintain public outrage and momentum over the two-and-a-half-year period that it took to get the measure on the ballot. As a result of the campaign, the San Bernardino mayor, city attorney, and council members were all removed from office or resigned.

A direct lobbying coalition to pass bipartisan legislation

More recently, direct lobbying efforts by a diverse group of business and labor interests helped overcome intense partisan gridlock to move the $4 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act through Congress in 2021. These outside groups – who are usually at odds with one another on policy issues – had generally been united on the issue of infrastructure. When it looked like the bipartisan infrastructure deal might falter after weeks of negotiations and tens of millions of dollars spent by these individual groups on lobbying the particulars of the bill, they saw it as a strong opportunity to coalesce behind their shared vision and launched an official coalition to pressure policymakers on both sides of the aisle to reach an agreement. The breadth of the coalition members and diversity of interests represented publicly demonstrated to members of Congress that there was strong, organized support for the bill, which put pressure on them to keep working toward a solution and successfully pass the bipartisan bill.

What are some common mistakes to avoid in lobbying and public affairs?

Increased political polarization, congressional gridlock, and election cycle uncertainties can create both short- and long-term challenges to government outreach. In addition, the rise of social media and the increased “noise” makes it more difficult than ever for government relations professionals to reach policymakers, build relationships, and get work done. A clear goal is the foundation of any strong public affairs strategy and helps keep all tactics and work focused consistently on that vision, no matter the political climate.

Messaging that doesn’t resonate with the target audience

The success of any public affairs strategy hinges on getting the right message to the right people. It’s essential to develop compelling messages that resonate with policymakers, stakeholders, and the public. While messaging should be tailored to specific situations, audiences, and policy contexts, your messages should be consistently aligned with organizational goals and values. Campaigns lose credibility and trust when audiences feel like they’re being told two different things.

Not being prepared to support a policy position

In an ever-changing political landscape, government relations professionals must build solid relationships with lawmakers. Lobbyists and government affairs professionals can often become trusted resources to members of Congress and their staff for research and analysis on how specific policy proposals may impact various industries and interests. Ahead of a meeting with an elected official or their office, always research the issues important to the voters they represent and demonstrate how your policy position helps them deliver for their constituents back home. Be prepared with data to support your arguments, and a clear “ask” of how they can support your cause.

Essential government affairs expertise from Bloomberg Government

Government affairs professionals need to stay one step ahead of it all if they’re going to serve their clients with the insider knowledge and advocacy they rely on. There’s a lot to track on the Hill, and Bloomberg Government is your one-stop-shop to streamline your workflow. We provide best-in-class intelligence, cross-industry news coverage, legislative tracking, and directory information to help you track all the moving parts, keep your stakeholders informed, and build key relationships to make an impact. Learn more about how our comprehensive congressional directories can help you identify the right strategic contacts and access essential background information all through one easy-to-use tool.

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