What Makes a Successful Lobbyist?

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What Makes a Successful Lobbyist?

Ryan Matthews

Shareholder, GrayRobinson, P.A.

Often, the term “lobbyist” conjures a negative or distasteful emotion. While lobbyists have played a critical role in politics since the beginning of time, not everyone is familiar with exactly what lobbyists do, and more importantly, what makes a successful lobbyist. This post will examine of a few of the fundamental traits of successful lobbyists and how you can apply them to your advocacy efforts.

Lobbyists are advocates. In the case of professional lobbyist, obviously they are paid by various clients for their time, experience, and relationships. The two most critical factors that generally separate professional lobbyists with members of an association, or the public are relationships and access. Knowing who to go to with a specific problem, and more importantly, having a previously existing relationship with a decision maker make a lobbyist’s objective more achievable. Whether you are a professional lobbyist or a member of an association, it is critical to form relationships with lawmakers. A good rule of thumb is to get to know both your state representative and state senator first. As a constituent, your voice matters to your elected officials and you will have an easier time accessing those who represent you, as opposed to other members of the legislature. Having said that, identify those in the legislative process who may have more clout than others. Not all 160 members of the Florida Legislature are created equal. If possible, get to know relevant committee chairs, majority whips, the Speaker of the House and, the Senate President, if the opportunity presents itself.

Lobbyists are sources of information. Again, whether a professional lobbyist or not, lobbyists are seen by lawmakers as sources of information. To that end, a lobbyist should be well versed in the subject matter they are speaking about. The key to persuasive engagement is becoming an expert in the topic at hand. As a lobbyist, either you, or your client has identified a problem. Your job is to find a solution to the problem. The most successful lobbyists are able to consume significant amounts of information or material and ensure that the appropriate arguments are made, either for or against a matter, in front of decision makers.  Members of an association will often have real world experience that can be extremely valuable regarding state policy discussions effecting their industry. It is critical that members share and staff solicit that type of information and provide it to their lobbying team. Members should also convey that information to local legislators to help advance the organization’s legislative agenda.     

Lobbyists are effective and honest communicators. Having a reputation for being honest and forthright is critical in your role as a lobbyist. Lawmakers who engage frequently with professional lobbyists must trust that the information the lobbyist shares with them is truthful, otherwise that lobbyist would lose the previously mentioned access that is so vital to success. When communicating with a legislator is critical to (1) be respectful – attack the policy, not the person; (2) be succinct – rehearse the argument to be presented, try to hit the major components in an efficient manner; (3) come with an ask – know beforehand what you want to accomplish in any meeting or conversation with a legislator; and (4) leave with a result.

There is a common saying in Tallahassee that there are three types of lobbyists: those with substance; those with flash, and those who have both. The third category is increasingly rare. Successful lobbying can be accomplished in many different ways, and it is not essential that you be a “professional lobbyist” to accomplish something, but the first step is actively participating in the process. I regularly discuss the need for members to engage with their state representatives and senators in order to educate on specific issues. Please do not let inexperience prohibit you from introducing yourself to those who represent you.

Ryan Matthews is a Tallahassee-based attorney and lobbyist with a practice focused on environmental, land use, and local government issues.  He has served as the Interim Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) where he also served as the Deputy Secretary for Regulatory Programs, where he oversaw the agency’s air, water, and waste divisions. He can be reached at: ryan.matthews@gray-robinson.com.


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