What Lobbyists Do
A lobbyist’s job is to influence an elected official on public policy matters. The job is generally divided up into one of two categories; direct or indirect lobbying. With direct lobbying, the individual will meet with an elected official or his or her staffers to provide the official with information on the policy the lobbyist wants changed or created. Indirect lobbying, which some will argue is not “true” lobbying, but public affairs instead, involves more grassroots efforts away from political offices. In these cases, the lobbyists or public affairs specialists will call the public to action by raising awareness for the issue and asking citizens to write or call the official. They sometimes work with social influencers to help give their effort more momentum as well.
Lobbyists may work independently, on behalf of another individual, or for an organization. When they work independently or for an individual, they’re typically trying to change the opinion an official has or get endorsement for a specific pet cause. When lobbyists work on behalf of an organization, they tend to watch for any type of emerging legislative changes which may impact how the organization functions, and will then fight for the interests of the organization.
There is a myriad of tasks lobbyists must carry out, including research of current laws, potential laws, where specific officials stand on each matter, and where the public stands on issues. They then gather research and compile it into easy-to-understand reports and distribute it to officials, their staffers, or the public. Lobbyists network extensively, cultivating strong relationships with officials and their staff. It’s common for lobbyists to become so close to officials that the lobbyists provide legislative proposals for the official to endorse.
Although there are laws which prevent lobbyists from giving officials gifts or donations, some will host fundraising events which benefit officials instead. This enables them to stay within the letter of the law, while providing opportunity to bend the official’s ear. Lobbyists regularly work with other lobbyists who have similar interests, and sometimes even those with opposing interests when they can come together over one common goal. They also work with public relations and public affairs specialists to amplify the message an official hears.
Who would enjoy a career in Public Policy?
Most lobbyists have a law or politics background, which helps them understand the nuances of legislation. In addition to this, having excellent communication, persuasive, and negotiation skills are essential. Being organized and having good time-management skills are important too. The field can be a good fit for someone who wants to impact society in a big way, but doesn’t have a desire to be in the public eye or run for office.
Who mightn't like the career?
There is a lot of room for unethical behavior amongst lobbyists. In the past, lobbyists working for companies have drafted bills which directly influence how their operations are governed. Others find ways to funnel money to officials, essentially buying their support.
Although lobbying is healthy and essential, as it makes officials more aware of issues and public opinion, it’s unethical practices like this which give lobbyists a bad reputation and undermine democracy. Lobbying can also be exhausting, with some putting in 80 hours per week, and those who work in the field may put in extensive time with an official, expecting the official to side with them, only to have the official change his or her mind with no notice. These things lead to burnout, so the career isn’t a good fit for those who are unprepared for failures and setbacks, as well as those who can’t pace themselves with work.
People who get into lobbying for themselves don’t have to have any qualifications at all, aside from registering with the government. However, those who work for firms or on behalf of organizations are usually expected to have a background in politics, law, or public relations. Internships or courses directly relating to lobbying may also be beneficial.
- How to Get into the Lobbying Field (US- specific)
- How to Be an Effective Lobbyist in Canada
- Public Affairs Careers: How and Where? (UK-specific)
- So you wanna be a lobbyist … (Australia-specific)
In order to get into a lobbying career, candidates must be able to demonstrate they understand the inner workings of the government, have excellent networking skills, and can communicate effectively. This can be demonstrated through related experience as well through the answers given during the interview. Candidates should brush up on the types of policies the firm they’re applying at is hoping to impact, and learn as much as they can about the expectations of the role in advance.
Moving into Public Policy from another career
Most people become lobbyists as a second career. Emily Yoffe explores her early experiences with attempting to transition from a journalism background to lobbying in “Am I the Next Jack Abramoff?”
People in economics, politics, marketing, and PR also have an easier time transitioning. However, because no degrees or licenses are required, anyone can be a lobbyist. The Princeton Review’s “A Day in the Life of a Lobbyist” discusses the transition more in depth.
Role: “While there is no hierarchy of seniority as in corporations,” explains the Princeton Review, “this also means that there is no ceiling for those who do well.” Indeed, lobbyists often carve out their own paths, determine what an average day looks like, schedule their own meetings, and identify how much research should be completed.
Occasionally, lobbying firms offer internships and entry-level roles in which individuals may be responsible for supporting a lobbyist’s research and administrative needs, but these aren’t necessarily gateways into lobbying. They’re more of an opportunity to learn about the field while working in a support role.
Lobbyists travel to meet with public officials and their staffers for meetings, as well as for fundraisers and events. The amount of travel varies based on where the lobbyist resides in relation to the officials he or she is trying to sway.
Lobbyist: Salaries for lobbyists vary greatly and depend largely on the amount of influence a lobbyist has. According to data from PayScale, lobbyists have average salaries of USD $72,000 in the United States and CAD$61,000 in Canada. Data from Salary Expert places Australian salaries at AU$119,000 and £52,000 in the UK. In all, those with more experience and influence stand to earn about 50% more.
Bonuses are sometimes awarded to lobbyists, but don’t generally exceed more than a few thousand dollars or pounds.
Why Lobbyists move on
Lobbying can sometimes require a lot of effort for very little pay. Moreover, effort doesn’t always equal results. The emotional reward may be enough for some, but others must do it in their spare time or focus on an alternate career in order to make ends meet.
Respectively, very few can make a full-time career of it unless they happen to be adept networkers and are highly effective with persuasion. Many also become disenchanted with politics and leave the field because of its inner workings. Because this is generally a second career for most people, they can go back to their original area of expertise. However, it’s also quite common for lobbyists to quit and explore their own passions, such as writing, traveling, and in some instances performing.
For further reading, see: “It Happened To Me: I Quit My Job As A Lobbyist To Move To LA And Become A Comedian,” “How I Quit My Job to Travel: The Political Lobbyist,” and “I was a lobbyist for more than 6 years. I quit. My conscience couldn’t take it anymore.”