In this article, we’re going to be discussing the practice of lobbying. We not only will define the term, but describe how it is used in great detail, and why it is important to someone who works in marketing and advertising. The word is widely used by the news media and people everywhere, but most people don’t think of it beyond the negative connotation. We will explore it fully here.
The Definition of Lobbying
Lobbying has a pretty simple definition: attempting to persuade. Lobbying is when someone tries to convince a politician, public official or another decision maker to take a certain action. Lobbying is done by someone who is advocating a certain position or side, often called a lobbyist. There are lobbyists for every position out there and they continually try to influence politicians and others of the validity of their side.
The Negative Side of Lobbying
When most people think about lobbying, they think of the rich and powerful lobbying for things that only that group would want. A common example might be the tobacco companies spending millions of dollars lobbying for laws that are friendly for selling tobacco. This is what most people think of when you say the word “lobbying” or “lobbyist.” However, there is a lot more to lobbying than just the negative image.
Positive Lobbying Campaigns
However, there are definitely some negative examples of lobbying out in the world. One recent example is food industry lobbyists who attempted the block the government from labeling Foods that has been have been genetically modified as such. These GMO Foods are labeled throughout the European Union, but food industry workers companies and biotech firms claimed that it would hurt their bottom line. The lobbying was somewhat successful. Foods are not labeled with the GMO tag, but the only way that you can find out if a food has been genetically modified or not is to scan the QR code with your phone.
Of course, there are plenty of examples of positive lobbying campaigns as well. One of the current lobbying agendas at the time of this writing that is being handled positively is the Tom Steyer website with the petition to impeach Donald Trump. Whether or not you agree with Steyer’s agenda, the type of lobbying that is being done is very positive and fair. On the other hand, special interest groups that pay off politicians directly to get them to vote their way is a negative example of how lobbying is used.
How Lobbying is done
There are some basic steps that businesses will use in order to get the government to take the action that they want. Understanding how this type of lobbying works and the techniques involved will help you understand the overall concept of lobbying.
- First, lobbyists attempt to control the terms of the debate. They avoid having conversations that they know they can't win and instead attempt to start an entirely different conversation. Obviously, this controlling the ground technique works with any number of Industries.
- The second thing will cover is the media. As mentioned, there are positive ways and negative ways to use all of these techniques. Lobbyists have to know when to use the press and when to avoid it, but the media is essential when a company wants to get a message to the government or when someone wants to get a message to the public at large.
- Lobbying also attempts to create a following; because if you have a single person behind your cause it does not have much power, but when you have several groups and lots of people behind you, you have a great deal more. This can be applied both positively and negatively.
- Another trick that lobbyists use is to purchase credibility. If you cannot spread your message yourself, then you have to find someone else just spread it for you. This is a common tactic used by the tobacco companies. By manipulating research studies in the mid-twentieth century, it took a long time before people realized how harmful tobacco products were.
- Right along with the previous technique is the one known as the Paid Think Tank. When you sponsor a think tank, you can get professional opinions for the right price, and you can get them in your favor. There are actually companies out there that offer think tank services where they will purportedly do the research and then come up with a report for the media that is favorable to the company funding the tank.
- Another tactic big companies engage in is hiring lobbyists to do a public consultation. When this happens, it is quite easy to get the opposition to come out in the open and figure out what exactly they have in their arsenal.
- Right along with that is the follow-up tactic to get rid of the opposition completely. Lobbyists can damage a company's reputation and have various other ways to neutralize the opposition. One of the ways in which this is done is by monitoring everything that the opposition is saying, and especially looking for warning signs that opposition activity is beginning.
- Lobbyists will also often try to control the information that is on the web. They can do this one of two ways. First, they could try to get rid of negative information. Companies have used lobbyists to edit Wikipedia pages in the past, or they post false copyright infringement claims over a piece of content so that it will get taken down.
- But another method that companies use is by putting so much positive information out there that the negative information gets lost in the pile. This is done by paying for reviews and hiring people to spread the message that company wants out there.
Good Lobbying vs. Bad
As mentioned earlier, there is a difference between good lobbying practices and bad ones. When lobbyists create engaging campaigns on a company's behalf that is not in the interest of Public Health or safety, it may be considered bad lobbying. The tobacco companies attempting to influence government regulations by throwing money at the problem is the perfect example of this. Tobacco companies knew for decades that tobacco was harmful and had long-term health consequences. But because of their lobbying efforts it was a long time before the general public was aware of it.
The difference between good lobbying practices and bad ones is fairly easy to distinguish. Good lobbyists try to convince lawmakers and others of their position, representing a good cause such as human rights or public health and safety. Bad lobbyists on the other hand will often give money directly to politicians in return for favors that do not represent the public. In other words, good lobbying is ethical while bad lobbying is not.
Special Interest Groups
Special interest groups are the next topic in lobbying that we will discuss. A special interest group is a smaller group within a larger organization where everyone has the same agenda. Special interest groups are almost exclusively linked to lobbying and behind many of the lobbying victories, both positive and negative, that have been won in this country.
There are a few things that you should understand about special interest groups and how they fit in with lobbying. First of all, special interest groups are at the top of the food chain. From the special interest group, two different groups are created. The first are the lobbyists who try to influence elected officials and the second group is the political action committee, often abbreviated PAC, which actually contributes to political campaigns and invests in their financial interests. In other words, often these special interest groups are going after politicians to further their agenda with a two-pronged sword.
Who Is Doing The Lobbying?
So, who exactly is doing the lobbying anyway? There is a great deal of information about lobbying out there for those who want to look it up, and it definitely is true that lobbying is the way that things are supposed to get done in the United States, when it is done correctly. But the people doing the lobbying more often than not are the big corporations. The number of lobbyists in Washington is over 10,000, but the people who actually get things done are far fewer. Lobbying takes place at every level of government and by many different groups of people, but as mentioned, mostly representing the biggest corporations in the country.
Find more statistics at Statista
The Rules of Lobbying
Most people are not aware that there are some pretty specific rules that lobbyists must follow. In fact, it is the subversion of these rules that can turn a lobbyist from a positive one to a negative one. One thing that you want to be aware of is that lobbying rules are different in just about every state. So in order to find out what specific rules there are for a certain group, it would depend upon which state they are based in.
Even the definition of lobbying can vary from one state to another. All states have reporting requirements, but again they are different for every single state. In addition, lobbyists must register and declare themselves with a specific set of rules for doing so, defined in the laws of the state where they are located. Finally, there are some specific rules about using public funds to do lobbying. In many states, there are no restrictions at all. Those states include Alabama, California, Arkansas, Washington DC, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho and many others. On the other hand, some states have extensive laws regarding the use of the history of lobbying. Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Texas and the state of Washington are among those with the most stringent requirements regarding the use of public funds for lobbying.
Lobbying is done so that the people can compete for government resources. Because the Constitution was created partly to solve the problem of special interest groups, which are represented by lobbyists today, the founding fathers saw that the best way to prevent an unfair advantage was to allow these groups to compete. Plus, since the Constitution protected free speech, lobbyists have the right to make the statements that they do. But it is only been within the last few decades that lobbying has become as big as it is.
The Various Types of Lobbying
There are different types of lobbying out there. The first dividing line can be drawn between paid lobbying and free lobbying. Some groups will work on behalf of others without charge, while other lobbying groups will work for just about anyone if they are willing to pay the right price.
In addition, lobbying can be divided based upon the focus of the lobbying effort. Whether the agenda is to maintain the bottom line of a corporation, such as the cigarette manufacturers, or to represent education, minorities or human rights violations, there are thousands of different reasons that a lobbying group might be created.
Another dividing line between lobbying organizations is those that includes are working with a single issue in mind versus those who are interested in multiple issues. In the past, lobbying for multiple issues was the most common type out there. However, in recent decades, the single-issue lobbyist has become more and more prevalent.
In addition, there is one more dividing line between lobbying groups. One type is called an inside lobbying group, sometimes called direct lobbying, and these types of groups are trying to create a change at the source. In other words, they will directly contact politicians and their aides in order to promote their agenda. Outside lobbying on the other hand, sometimes called indirect lobbying, is more interested in promoting an agenda using citizens. There are many different ways that outside lobbying is done. Sometimes TV commercials are used, such as in the case of the aforementioned example Tom Steyer campaign, while others use social media or create documentary films to effect change.
There are various methods and techniques that are used by lobbyists that are very similar to the ones used by marketing and advertising professionals, as well as the public relations industry. Many lobbyists are lawyers because the people they are trying to influence are writing our laws.
But there are various techniques that most lobbyists have in common. The first is ensuring that they have access to the person or people they are trying to influence. Having access is absolutely vital in lobbying. If you cannot get your message to the right person, then you are going to have no success whatsoever.
Imagine that you have a senator that you need to get on your side in order to further your agenda. As a lobbyist, you have several choices. But what if the senator and his/her staff will not allow you to get close enough to pass on a message. If you are not able to get access then you have to find some way around it. An example of that would be throwing a fundraiser for the candidate and becoming a donor. This should get you an “in” with that senator and allow you to pass the message on.
The Business of Lobbying
Lobbying started becoming more prevalent in the 1970s. In fact, there was huge growth that decade and for every decade after that. In 2008, lobbying expenses were estimated to be at around 3.2 billion dollars. Just 10 years earlier in 1998, that number had only been at 1.4 billion dollars. The business of lobbying has become an industry and not everyone thinks that's a good thing.
The Lobbyist as a Person
When it comes to the actual people behind a lobbying group, they vary considerably. But one thing that is consistent is that lobbyists are professionals, and often are actually lawyers. Lobbyist may work for a particular lobbyist group or they may actually work in a law firm. Other lobbyists may work for trade associations or be part of some advocacy group.
The bottom line is that lobbying is definitely something that the country needs and was founded on, but when lobbyists are able to change government policy with the goal of ignoring or even hurting the public to further their own agenda or improve their bottom line, then it becomes a problem. There are but there are lots of good examples of lobbyist groups that have done amazing things in this country as well.
Lobbying is definitely part of the marketing and advertising world, including public relations in there. With the internet, lobbying has changed quite a bit in the past decade, and it is very likely that it will continue to change in the future. But if lobbying were ever done away with, people would have no ability to effect change whatsoever and that would be a terrible thing.
No matter what you believe, or whether you agree with a specific lobbyist agenda, you must believe that lobbying is a positive thing overall and should be encouraged and used by those in public relations, marketing and advertising whenever possible. Great things can be accomplished using lobbying.