Developing tomorrow’s leaders in the worlds of public relations and lobbying is a point of pride at Issues Management Group. A rising star in public affairs, IMG Senior Account Manager Erika Berglund shares her insights on the new generation of lobbyists.
What comes to mind when you think of a lobbyist? For many, a lobbyist looks like a good old boy smoking cigars and slapping backs behind closed doors. However, misconceptions aside, there is a “new lobbyist” in town who is modernizing the traditional playbook to better represent and reach a generation that will soon become the face of our democracy. With rapidly advancing technology and new ways to reach audiences, lobbying is evolving to remain current and impactful while retaining the traditional characteristics of transparency, honesty, and integrity.
Politics can be tumultuous – right or left, conservatives vs. liberals, you name it. But with serious issues like mental health, gun violence, and the housing crisis impacting generations to come, many young people are more politically engaged now than ever before, as revealed in a recent national poll of Americans between 18- and 29-years old by the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School. This new and engaged group of civic-minded citizenry is a key audience and constituency, particularly from a lobbying perspective.
Lobbyists have used grassroots efforts to engage the public to act on a cause before the Legislature, but we see this tactic dominating the political landscape even more now. Whether through coalition building, petitions, or public demonstrations, grassroots use a boots-on-the-ground approach to sway lawmakers. Asking the general public to contact their legislators and other officials regarding an issue is impactful. Decision-makers would rather hear from constituents than lobbyists, that’s the simple truth. Take it from these TikTok creators who recently rallied on Capitol Hill.
The “new lobbyist” may have some traditional tactics, but there are savvier ways to achieve legislative goals. As digital capabilities expand, so do lobbyists’ toolkits and strategies. For instance, social media has dramatically changed the way we communicate. Gen Z primarily relies on social media for news instead of more traditional media platforms and there is also less emphasis on print media, which means getting information to and from the State House presents new hurdles. Social media can facilitate both direct communication with policymakers and outreach to the public, and it is relatively cheap and easy to use. Policymakers can hear what matters directly from their constituents and in return they can engage with them. Through social media and tech-based platforms, like online petition software, it is possible to reach your target audiences with intention and elicit a specific action to move your priorities forward. Digital ad strategies have also evolved to where you can geofence the State House during a hearing day to ensure that every staffer and legislator will get hit with your online ads.
Even with advancing technology, traditional communications and public relations are still highly effective complements to lobbying, and integrating these approaches has become almost a necessity. Lobbying and PR both play a role in communicating information and furthering the interests of individuals and organizations – a major difference being the audience you are targeting. Aligning media efforts with legislative milestones can make a big impact. For example, a well-timed opinion piece in a prominent outlet can be an effective way to get through to decision makers and influence the conversation and education around a particular issue. The media has an important part in shaping political reality, regardless of how news is consumed.
In spite of all that has changed, foundational lobbying tactics and ideas still matter. Collecting sponsors and providing deep insight into policymakers’ backgrounds and priorities, monitoring the legislative process, and engaging in face-to-face conversations with decision-makers will always be essential. However, younger generations will soon make up the majority of the American electorate and eventually our lawmakers. With that in mind, we need to adapt previous strategies to engage and work with a new face of government.
Millennials and Gen Zers are more tech-savvy and know how to filter through the noise, so messages need to be genuine – fluff and fillers don’t matter when you grew up with access to the internet and fact-checking has become second nature. The “new lobbyist” may have similar goals as their predecessors, but with advancing technology and an evolving society, lobbying is starting to look different. And so do the lobbyists themselves.
When you think “lobbyist” now, forget the dark, smokey-filled rooms and visualize a craft beer drinking, Birkenstock wearing, thrift store enthusiast who advises her clients to use a blend of the old playbook alongside the new one.
To learn how we at IMG integrate new lobbying tactics, check out this case study on our work with the Massachusetts Brewers Guild: https://issuesgroup.com/case-study/massachusetts-brewers-guild/.