By Pamela Ray
Government Relations Expert
Pamela Ray & Associates, LLC
You know the sound of fingers scratching across a chalkboard? Well, you may consider the topic of lobbying to be just as obnoxious and annoying, based on the recent media coverage.
There is much more to the profession than the negative stories portrayed in the media. And there are those of us who do without the media coverage or the campaign money—and succeed in lobbying for federal programs or projects.
The reason why is this: Our role as government relations professionals is to facilitate, to teach, to research in-depth, to collaborate, and to advocate.
Despite the growing amount of money going into political campaigns, I strongly maintain my niche in advocating based both on the credibility of my clients and their projects; and, on my credibility in providing successful outcomes. However, my target audience for developing solutions has shifted predominantly from Washington, DC, to the local community level.
Politics Outside the Beltway: In recent years, it has become apparent to a growing number of Americans that our nation’s problems and economic woes are not going to be fixed from Washington, DC.
Back in 2005, I fired a shot over the bow to a group of my clients, insisting that they needed to focus on “local advocacy,” to build and strengthen local partnerships because money, help, and fixes were not going to come from the top-down forever.
As federal deficits went from billions to trillions, I recommended that my clients rebuild from the bottom-up, engage heavily in collaborative local partnerships, and share their “local story” not only with federal elected officials but also with local officials and organizations in order to build new relationships where they lived.
In 2008, I began to push this message with passion and refocused my business plan to incorporate half of my work from “outside the Beltway.” My observation is that this crowd understands the drastic situation we’re in, and has a grasp of the need to rebuild from the bottom-up—even if they are still grappling with how to do it.
Those who are taking leaps or those who are starting with baby steps will ultimately provide a vision for others to follow.
Politics Inside the Beltway: I truly believe that there is a lack of vision in Washington, DC. My frustration with the “inside the Beltway” crowd is the turf-conscious program administrators, congressional committees, and national advocacy associations who fear losing power and control over their programs, funding streams, policy positions, target audiences, and membership bases.
As a result, they are not evolving with the changing federal climate of deficits and debts; they are afraid to move the chairs around and find a new seat at the table. I see them trudge on as if they are going to soon walk right out of the muck and things will bounce back to their “comfort zone” when in fact they need to be energized to create and support local problem-solving.
Few are willing to look at new paradigms or collaborative approaches, because they fear they will lose some of that turf (aka: their control). The penalty paid will be greater pain in finding a seat at the table, if at all.
So, with these dynamics in play, and the tough fiscal situation facing almost every community nationwide, I chose to continue my advocacy around “Main Street” issues that make peoples’ lives better.
Like my emphasis on local solutions, my Golden Rules of advocacy have not changed through my decades of work, though my awareness of them and my ability to clearly define them has improved immensely. I remain steadfast in my commitment to empower others to be their own best advocates. Consider the following.
Pam Ray’s Five Government Relations Rules of Thumb
1. Empower clients to be their own best advocate. Always put the client out front. They are the “constituent” of the elected official. Prepare them to tell their “local story” with specifics on the human and economic impact of their project or issue. And provide ongoing translation to clients to lessen their fears and increase their understanding of the language and culture of working with Congress or with the Executive Branch departments/agencies. Never surprise or intentionally keep clients out of the decision-making process.
2. Strategic messaging and implementation for client projects must evolve with the changing times. This includes the economy, federal priorities, policies, and politics. Your justifications must provide clarity on the reason for a federal role (top-down) and your advocacy must incorporate bottom-up components such as new collaborative relationships, shared missions, clear facts about the human and economic impact, changing local community needs, and all collective efforts that contribute to rebuilding the neighborhood, community, region, or state.
3. Commit only to credible projects. Work only with individuals and groups that have a depth of integrity.
4. Create bipartisan, collaborative initiatives. I thrive in this environment, and undoubtedly millions of others do to.
5. Be persistent. And be polite. As Tom Brokaw suggested in his new book, The Time of Our Lives, “reflect on where we have been and how we are going to move forward together, and […] do it with more listening and less shouting.” Here’s to that.
About Pam Ray
Pamela Ray has more than three decades of in-depth experience in policy and politics, with expertise in congressional budget / appropriations and federal grant programs. Her policy experience includes housing and community development, housing finance, transit / transportation, taxes, and trade. With a focus on bridging the knowledge gap between elected officials and their constituents, Ray has achieved success in her own government relations business for 15 years and for elected officials in the U.S. Senate; U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs (1989-95); and the NYS Senate-Federal Affairs Office (1986-1989). For more information, visit www.pamrayllc.com.