Lobbying Lowdown: What is lobbying?

Welcome to Lobbying Lowdown, S4 Group’s blog series on the lobbying industry. In our first post, we answer the frequently asked question: What is lobbying?

In the most general sense of the term, lobbying is seeking to influence the path of government. There are endless ways to do this, but “lobbying” usually refers to two broad categories of interactions with government officials: direct and indirect.

Direct lobbying is attempting to influence a legislative body (eg. the House of Representatives) by communicating with a member of that body (eg. a Representative), an employee of that body (eg. a legislative aide), or any government officials or staff who participate in creating legislation. Direct lobbying also includes attempting to influence employees of government agencies (eg. the FDA). Indirect lobbying, also known as grassroots lobbying, refers to building influence through persuading the public, rather than elected officials. The goal of a grassroots lobbying campaign is to encourage your audience to reach out to elected officials to influence legislation.

Moving past the formal definitions, we think of lobbying as translating. Nongovernmental agents, likes citizens and businesses, speak a different language from government personnel and agencies. The goals of both groups frequently overlap, but it takes knowledge and specialized understanding to identify these shared areas and facilitate productive communication.

If you want someone to listen to your ideas, inside or outside of government, you need to know what matters most to that person and be able to show how your idea will further his or her goals. For example: while the primary goal of a business may be to accrue more wealth, the primary goal of an elected official is to ensure the welfare of his or her constituents. These two goals are not the same, but they overlap if, perhaps, the business wants to open a new branch and hire 100 employees in the official’s district, where low employment has been a concern.

Communication and relationships are really the central tenets of lobbying. Since every business and member of the government is unique, successful lobbying requires an extensive knowledge base and the ability to form mutual relationships with a range of people. Building this foundation takes time, skill, political savvy, and so much more. Some would even say it’s like a full-time job.

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