Lobbying career offers chance to make difference

Friday, June 24, 2011, Vol. 35, No. 25

If you are not happy with the state of the country or your own community and want to make a difference in determining the direction of future legislation, take a look at a career as a lobbyist.

These highly-skilled professionals spend their time trying to influence opinion and legislation on a particular subject. The influence these individuals make can be seen in all facets and at all levels of government.

Lobbyists are usually experts in three areas:

•The area or subject they represent

•The inner workings of government

•How to get their message out to the right people

They are expected to influence government officials or people they are targeting. At the same time, officials and their staff often are expecting lobbyists to educate them on the important elements of their specialized subject area.

Because they are often viewed as experts in their field, lobbyists have a lot of influence whether specialized legislation is passed or defeated.

Because of the importance in what they do and the need for public awareness, they are regulated by federal law. Lobbyists working on the federal level and most states, including Tennessee, must register. Those who spend or receive money (or anything of value) in the interest of passing or defeating legislation must provide financial information.

Almost all special interests use lobbyists. The number of trade, non-profit and charitable organizations in the U.S. is about 25,000 and still growing. A large number have offices in the Washington area. Most all employ professional lobbyists. This number does not include corporations.

Because of the location of the state capital, the Nashville area has a significant number of special interest offices and the lobbyists that go with them.

The work of lobbyists can vary. They are generally seen as meeting with politicians, officials and their staff in their offices or at social functions to encourage a certain vote. They provide information and analysis in support of this effort. They may work directly in writing legislation.

They can also be involved in influencing voters. This is performed through media advertising, letter writing campaigns, e-mail, newsletters and other methods.

Often they contact newspaper, website, radio and television editors and managers to encourage them to run information that supports their interests. They may write releases to be supplied to the media and may have their own blogs.

To become an effective lobbyist requires years of on the job experience. Knowing how government works, which people to talk with and how to get the message out takes time. Developing a network of the “right people” is a key to the success of the job.

Understanding the important issues and relevant policy is paramount.

Most lobbyists are well-educated with good communication skills. Courses in journalism, media, public relations, communication methodology, political science, government and law help in molding a career as a lobbyist.

So, if you like causes, like to communicate and like to influence people, this may be a great profession for you. Decide where your interests lie and become prepared to change society. And you are already in luck, since you live in the state capital area.

M.B. Owens is a Nashville-based columnist and journalist with a decade of experience writing on employment topics and business. He can be reached at mariusowens@aol.com.