My First 50 Days as a Lobbyist
Whenever someone asks me what I do, the easiest way to respond is to say that I’m a lobbyist. However, I try to avoid doing so as it seems to be a dirty word, conjuring scenes of a dimly lit, smoke-filled room where people trade cash for political influence, away from the public consciousness. In fact, the term ‘lobbying’ originated in the late 1860s, when political advocates would stake out the lobby of President Ulysses Grant’s hotel, waiting to harass him at any given opportunity in order to further their own political agendas. Over 150 years later, the lobbying industry still hasn’t managed to shake the perception of corruption and manipulation. But in reality, since I started out as a ‘lobbyist’ I can promise that there have been no hotel stake-outs, presidents or harassing.
In a nutshell, my job is to help businesses benefit from interaction with Government and vice versa. That’s really all there is to it. No corruption, no manipulation – just facilitating relationships between the private and public sectors. While that is essentially what I do, howI do it is far more interesting. There is a lot that goes into it, but at the core it’s all about networks and connections. It’s not only my own personal connections either, but also connecting people with each other. Since I joined HSB Government Relations, I have done more than simply connect businesses with the Government. I have connected digital marketing agents with clients, artificial intelligence firms with software developers, businesses looking to move overseas with embassies, even real estate agents with real estate agents. That is what makes this job so interesting, particularly for someone like me, who loves working with people to find solutions and to build networks.
Of course, there’s a few lessons I’ve learned (or rather been reminded of) during my first 50 days. First of all, someone not replying to your email for three days usually means they’re busy and there is no point following up, but if it gets to three weeks then a follow-up is a good idea. Hounding people doesn’t help when you’re trying to build strong connections. Secondly, I’m thankful I’ve kept my bridges intact. While working for HSB, I have reached for out for help to people I never thought I’d encounter ever again (including people I worked for in high school) which just goes to show you should never burn your bridges, no matter how insignificant they may seem at the time. Finally, I’ve adopted the perspective that there is no such thing as failure, only learning. Everyone makes mistakes, regardless of how well they’ve prepared, and the most important lesson is to learn from them and keep moving forward.
Admittedly, I felt unsure about writing this article and naming it my first 50 days as a ‘lobbyist’. Unsure about using the term ‘lobbyist’ and unsure about how to accurately explain what I actually do, while dispelling the myth that lobbying is the dark side as it’s commonly perceived to be. To sum it up by saying that I ‘connect the private sector with the Government and help to navigate the reasonably confusing and complex bureaucracy which surrounds it’ would definitely do it justice.
And as an FYI, I also go by ‘government relations consultant’, just so I’m not automatically branded as a politician-harasser or a public corruption mastermind whenever I introduce myself. Until that’s no longer the case and we stop equating lobbying with the dark side, feel free to use that title instead – I promise it’s no different.
Tom Peoples is HSB Government Relations’ Consultant based in Wellington. He specialises in bridging private sector businesses with central and local government. Make sure to connect with Tom Peoples on LinkedIn.