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The role of lobbying continues to evolve and change and if we don’t evolve and change as professionals, we will be left behind. Today, “lobbying” isn’t simply hiring a professionally registered lobbyist to walk the halls of Congress for you. Today, “lobbying” includes so much more. Today, “lobbying” campaigns are complex and cover areas many people don’t consider as “lobbying.” Today’s successful “lobbying” campaigns not only rely on traditional lobbying, but also include grassroots, public relations, digital media, coalition building, in-state and district coordination, legal, and a heavy reliance on constituents. None of this is really new, but what is new is the technology and methods we use to get our message out, making reaching more people easier and faster. Gone are the days of reaching people in days or even hours. Today, our “lobbying” campaigns move at warp speed and if you aren’t using the newest methods, you will find yourself on the outside looking in. This goes for the association as well. If we are not meeting our member’s needs, they will find other outlets who will provide them the professional training, education, networking, and mentoring they want and need. It’s that simple.
I know a lot of us shy away from branding ourselves with the dreaded scarlet “L”. Let’s face it, Lobbyists have never been popular. If you believe candidates every election cycle, the media, and the public, we are the ones who make all the decisions in Washington and our actual elected officials are nothing more than dancing monkeys who do what we tell them to do with the pull of a few strings. The reality is, none of this is true. Yes, like every profession in this country we have had our bad actors. The difference is, when someone in our profession misbehaves it is a juicy scandal the media blows up for ratings. The public already doesn’t understand what we do or the role we play in our system of government, so when they read stories like those surrounding former criminals like Jack Abramoff, they automatically assume we all operate that way.
I was fortunate, or unfortunate (depending on how you look at it) to serve as President of the Association of Government Affairs Professionals (AGRP) in 2005-2006 during the Jack Abramoff scandal and what I learned very quickly was that we cannot run away from who we are or what we do. The act of petitioning our government is guaranteed to all of us by our Constitution. Those who want to ban “lobbying” want to do it to serve their own self-interest or special interests – the same type of special interests they have come to detest.
During the Abramoff scandal we united as a profession. We met with every group who wanted to debate lobbying rules and regulations. We met with every print, radio and television reporter that wanted to challenge us on lobbying reform and the so-called “ways of Washington”. We didn’t win a lot of those battles, but what I can say we did, is we stood up for our rights as citizens to petition our government. We cannot forget why we do what we do. For most of us it’s not for the money or the media attention. For most of us, we do it because we believe in it, our clients and the Constitution.
After every interview I can remember my Blackberry lighting up with hate mail. Instead of ignoring them, I responded to every single e-mail and phone call. I ended each e-mail by thanking the person for e-mailing me, but told them I had a hard time taking them or their position seriously when all they did was attack me without facts. I pointed out that they didn’t even know me and were making accusations they had nothing to back it up with other than to say I was a lobbyist so I must be corrupt. I had one man insult me and even attacked my kids. After talking with him and learning he was a Veteran, I asked him how he’d feel if I attacked his service and made statements about him killing innocent women and children during his service in the war. At this moment he was offended I would make such a statement. I then proceeded to point out now he knows how I feel. At this he stopped and said you’re right and apologized. After that the man and I connected via phone and we talked about what lobbying really is. I’m not sure I changed his mind, but I did humanize the issue and I think he hung up with a better understanding of who we are and what we do.
I share this story because it is something we are too afraid to do as a profession. Every time a scandal breaks, we run and hide until it blows over. During campaign season we allow candidates to attack us, yet they turn to us to help their campaigns and we oblige. We have to change that. We need to be proud of what we do and who we represent or speak for. We need to spend more time educating the public on the true nature of lobbying and what it means. The public sees us as the so-called establishment “Washington Cartel”. They don’t see us a family, friends, neighbors, volunteers, local youth coaches, Scout Leaders or even working Moms and Dads who go home every night and are loving parents to their kids, just like themselves. We need to humanize what we do. Some of the most significant public policies in this country are law today because of lobbyists. We need to stop running and stand our ground. We have nothing to apologize for. What we do is a right afforded to every citizen of this great country by our Constitution. We need to own the “L” word – it’s who we are.
The past two weeks, I have had a chance to talk to a lot of people about the use of the term “lobbyist”. There are some who would prefer us not use that term any longer or even include it in the name of our association. There are others who thanked me for not running from the “L” word. There is no right or wrong when it comes to this question. This organization plans to embrace all professionals in this industry. We all may operate our businesses differently, but at the end of day, whether we are engaged in what might be deemed traditional lobbying, to grassroots, to digital media, to public relations, to government affairs, to public-policy we are all playing a role in advocating for issues on behalf of the public who doesn’t know or understand that. The way we “lobby” may be different, but what we’re doing is the same and that is why this organization will have a broad appeal beyond those who may consider themselves traditional lobbyists.
We will be an inclusive group working with all new forms of lobbying because they are the future. We need to use the new tools available to us to better serve our clients, members, and employers. We need to stand up for ourselves and begin to drive the dialogue on lobbying and the so-called Washington corruption. We need to be out there talking about issues and even be willing to take stands on issues impacting our system of government and our profession. We better be out there offering real ideas and solutions for making the system better or leave it in the hands of those who have no sense of our profession and will implement rules and regulations that are only meant to score points with voters. We saw this in 2008 with the passage of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA). What HLOGA did among other things, was ban meals between lobbyists and staff/members. This is a rule I’m okay with frankly, but by doing so Congress may have made the system worse. We can no longer take a staffer out for lunch, but I can take a Member out and talk about my issues and when they get up to leave slide them an envelope across the table with a campaign contribution and call it a fundraiser. If you are the public and you already have a distrust of lobbyists, which do you think looks more corrupting to them? So, whether you embrace the “L” word or another term, we want you to be a part of our new vision and voice! We have to be in this together.
The surprising news of AGRP closing its doors was tough on the entire profession. This was an organization that helped many of us get to the positions we hold today. So closing its doors after 36-years had an immediate impact on so many who believed in its mission and helped build it into what it had become. Over the past two weeks I have had the opportunity to meet with a lot of people in person, on the phone and via e-mail regarding the closing of AGRP and the need that still exists for our profession. I was excited to hear the passion from so many people and what this profession means to them. That was very encouraging and while the news of AGRP’s closing is a loss, it does on the other hand give us a new opportunity to start over fresh with a new face and modern day mission. It’s for this reason that we have decided to become the voice of the profession. With your help and support, we can build a new and stronger professional association that takes issues head-on. We no longer have to sit by and listen to the attacks. We are prepared to be active taking on those who want to use us as their whipping post during election season. We want to be the voice out there working with Congress and the Administration on any new proposed lobbying rules and regulations. Gone are the days of running and hiding when we come under attack and hoping that things will die down and go back to normal. There is a new era about to begin in our profession and I hope you will join us to make it a success. To show you our commitment, we are offering any former AGRP member who paid their 2016 dues an opportunity to join us at no cost. All you have to do is fill out the membership form and send it back. It’s that easy! For those who have been actively pursuing AGRP’s LCP, you can transfer your credits over to us and complete our Public-Policy Certificate program without having to start over.
We need to be an organization that brings value to our members and vendor partners. Gone are the days of people signing up to belong to their professional association just because it was the “right thing” to do. Today with so many competing organizations and events, the chase for those members is so much greater than what it once used to be. Today members are evaluating the return on investment they get from every dollar they spend. I know we do. Talking with so many of you this week I heard this message loud and clear and that is why in this Vision Statement I hope to present you with that ROI you are looking for.
-Paul Miller, Founder
Our goal with our new membership structure is to begin to provide our members with the return on investment I keep talking about. You might get tired of hearing that phrase, but I feel very strongly that this organization has to be broader, more appealing, and have a stronger offering to make it worth the investment each year.
We understand how busy everyone is and how different the needs are for every member. This is why we are building an organization that will cater to you and your career needs.
High School/College/Intern Member Category
Our profession continues to evolve. Lobbying is now being taught at the college level. A lot of High Schools across the country are talking about lobbying in their government classes. Each year we see a lot of interns come to Washington with the hopes of gaining experience or even a job in our profession. We need to embrace these folks and work to help them gain access to the connections, opportunities and experience they need to succeed. With this in mind we have created a membership category for them. We need to begin attracting the next generation of lobbyists and welcoming them into our profession before they graduate or even have jobs. We need to offer mentoring opportunities to these members. We need to provide them access to our programming, whether it be in person or through the use of technology that allows them to view and be a part of these events online.
We have created a membership category for administrative support. Today administrative support is so important. These are not people who simply answer the phones or set up appointments. These are people deeply involved in key advocacy campaign functions. These are people who I say run our day-to-day operations so that we can be out doing our jobs. Making them an integral part of our teams and offering them programming that will further their careers only helps all of us at the end of the day. Our administrative professionals keep the offices running smoothly and help ensure the behind the scenes tasks get done. For many of us, our administrative staff have regular dealings with clients or the membership. We need to make sure they are given the tools to be successful representing us. They can begin that training through our programs and being part of our organization.
Young Leadership Network
We need to do more to embrace this group of professionals. They are the entry level to mid-level professionals who are tomorrow’s leaders and we need to offer them the programming, mentoring, networking, and frankly, a voice that can be heard. We need to work with them on programming that is essential for their career development, but that is also affordable. Our goal is to work with this group on additional programming geared for them. To show our commitment, we will be creating a Board position for them.
We have also created a special vendor category. I have spoken to several vendors this week and I have told them we need them as much as they need us today. We need to make our relationship a true partnership and that is why we will be creating three non-voting slots on our Board for them. Additionally, we will be creating a vendor council, which will meet regularly to discuss issues that can be brought to the Board for review and votes. The vendor council will be a select group of vendors with no more than 1-2 from a given product or service category. This way we make this council valuable to both us as an organization as well as our vendor partners. We want to make this an exclusive group – again, echoing that mantra of return on investment. Together we can create dynamic programming that benefits our members. Together we can stay current on the latest and greatest tools and programs out there to help us effectively serve our clients or members. Our focus will be on our vendor members and the important value they offer us. In return, we will be committed to our vendors, not just in words, but actions we take for our members.
This membership category will be for those professionals who are in government positions at all levels who want to take advantage of the networking benefits and programming the association offers.
This membership category is for those professionals who have retired and are simply looking to stay connected to the networking opportunities and the profession in general. The wisdom and experiences of these members will be a particular benefit to our younger members and we hope to attract them to participate in mentorships.
This membership category will be for those who don’t live and work in the Washington, DC area, but want to belong to their national professional association to keep abreast of what’s happening on the national level and benefit from our online programming and vendor relationships.
This category of membership is for those who want to be in a leadership role. With this new organization, our plan is to be an active group defending the profession and in doing so, we want to have this membership group play a role in those decisions and messaging. This category of member will be for those who want to be more involved versus those who may not have the time. This category will be for those members who want to play a direct role in the direction of the organization. This category may not be for everyone, but we believe it will be an attractive category for a vast majority in our profession who want to have an active say in how things are done.
Non-Voting (General) Members
This membership category is for those professionals who want to take advantage of all the benefits of the association, but who don’t want to be as active or vote on issues critical to the profession.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
The Board make-up will consist of:
- First Vice President
** Executive terms will be two year terms
- General Board slots will consist of up to 8 members filled as follows
*** Board members will serve 2-year terms that will be staggered. Board members can be re-elected to the Board and serve up to 6-years concurrently.
- The Board will also designate three additional spots for Vendors. These will be non-voting positions.
- The Board will also designate one additional Board slot for the President of the Young Leadership Network. This will be a non-voting position.
Elections of Executive positions and Board positions will occur at the annual meeting each year. If a person plans to run for an Executive slot they must meet the following criteria:
- Have been a member of the association for at least five years;
- Have served on the Board or as a Committee Chair for at least two years;
- Must be current on their dues; and/or
- Could have served on the Board of the Young Leadership Network.
Vendors are an important partner we need to work closely with. To help us help them identify our needs, we will be creating a vendor council made up of no more than six vendors, who will work with the Board to identify issues and areas of mutual interest. This council will work with their Board representatives to bring issues and ideas to the Board’s attention for possible action.
These slots will be selected by the Board, which will work to ensure there is diversity in this group so that it is exclusive and a value-proposition for our vendor partners.
Public Policy Certificate Program
One of the biggest returns on investment will be our professional continuing education. This professional designation is the industry standard we should all strive to achieve. This will be a detailed educational program professionals will have to meet in order to receive their PPC. If you were an AGRP member and received your LCP, we will grandfather you and provide you a new certificate. If you had started the AGRP program, but were unable to finish, we will transfer your credits over and allow you to take our courses without having to start over.
I was very pleasantly surprised by the response we have received to our PPC program. In talking with so many of you over the past two weeks, I learned just how valuable this program is and how important members felt it was. We will continue to make this a core piece of what we do going forward.
To that end, once you have received your PPC, you will be required to complete 2 credit hours annually in order to stay in good standing with the PPC designation. These will not be the same classes annually as we are assembling a PPC committee who will be responsible for developing and curating the courses with the goal of staying fresh and current with the trends and changes in the profession each year. There is a detailed outline of the PPC program on the website.
Today the competition for programs is greater than it ever was. You can see most members of Congress at any given time in a week at various events hosted by different groups. These types of programs are nice, but they are not the value add we want to offer you. Our plan is to offer roundtable events focused on specific policy or career tracks of our members.
Our roundtables will focus on senior level Congressional, Agency, White House and staff level speakers. We want these events to have real takeaways and value for attendees. With budgets tight and program opportunities abundant, our success will come from the quality of the events we host.
I have heard from several people who said that program costs in the past were too high and kept those more junior professionals from being able to attend. The comments I heard were that if the employer didn’t pay for it, the fee had to come out of their own pocket and the prices were too steep for many of these members to be able to afford. I heard you and we will work to keep costs low and/or work to gain sponsors of events so we can keep registration fees low or even be in a position to offer some of these programs for free to our members.
One of the other messages I heard over the past two weeks is that people would like to see more networking opportunities. They would like to see events that allow for networking opportunities outside the office and other program settings. Some of the areas we can make this happen is with happy hour events, trips to local sports team events, wine/scotch tastings, NCAA basketball viewing parties, and the list goes on. We will be creating a program committee, who in addition to the other programming we host will work to incorporate these types of events throughout the year.
We would also like to begin early discussions about trying to host either an annual or bi-annual tradeshow, where our vendors can show off their latest products and services.
At the end of each year we will host an annual meeting with programming. Our goal is to create an annual meeting that incorporates a lot of what I outlined in the above programming. We want to make this a must-attend event each year for our members and the only way we can do that is we keep it fresh and relevant.
This is a longer term goal, but we would like to begin working towards creating new state chapters or affiliates or work with those states that have organizations in place. The goal here would be to work with these chapters or affiliates on programming and opportunities for those members who don’t live and work in Washington. The goal would be to allow these chapters or affiliates to take advantage of our programming online. With technology today, we can do it easily and cost effectively.
We have a basic website up currently and are actively working on transforming it into a more functional and valuable tool for the membership. Our goal is to have a section dedicated to educating the public, where we highlight the accomplishments of our members and profession. We need to educate the public on the critical role we play in our system of government and this section of the website will share those personal stories. This section will also show the human side of who we are and what we do. It will highlight the pro bono work so many of us do as well as the volunteer work so many of us do in our communities.
The website will also have a speaker’s bureau. I heard from a lot of people that they would like a place they can go to find a speaker for a client event or large fly-in. This section will include the names, type of programming and even allow people to leave evaluations of the speakers. This has the potential to be a revenue generating source for the association.
We would also like to have a member’s only page which would require a member log in where we would post information just for you. In this section we would post a jobs board as well as possible RFP opportunities.
This is the vision we have as we move forward. I will say that this vision will constantly be changing as the profession and your needs change. Our goal is to provide the return on your investment you want and your employers want. We have outlined a lot of ideas in this statement and it will take some time to fully implement these objectives, but it is our commitment to you that we will work quickly to make this all a reality. We will host our first two PPC programs in May and are looking at June for our first roundtable events. We hope to also have a networking event during this period. So, we are moving ahead and we hope you will work with us to make this the strongest professional association possible. Let’s build this thing together so it meets all our needs and goals!
As we continue to grow this organization I will continue to reach out and talk to as many people as I can. This has to be OUR professional association if we are going to be successful. You have to have a voice and have to be heard. It is my goal to work monthly to talk with members and hear what they are thinking. Part of our programming will come from these conversations. I can tell you I have heard from a lot of you on some of the types of professional programming that center on career building or developing and maintaining business in such a competitive environment. We plan to incorporate this type development and training into our events.
We are committed to making sure this association is worth the investment and that is why we made the commitment to transfer your paid 2016 AGRP dues over to this organization at no additional cost. We are confident that you will find value that you will continue to be a member in 2017 and beyond.
I am available to talk with anyone about our vision and how we get there. Simply e-mail me or give me a call. I will make it a point to get back with you within 24-hours or sooner when possible.
I hope you see the vision and the value and will sign up to be part of something special. We have a new opportunity going forward and hope you will join us!
In Full Disclosure:
** NILE is not currently or has not in the past been affiliated with AGRP. NILE is a new, totally separate organization, who is stepping in to become the voice of the profession with the closing of AGRP. Any outstanding issues with AGRP need to be addressed with them. We cannot speak or act on their behalf.