Lobbyist in government often times get a bad rap. The picture conjured up is a cigar-smoking, fat-cat with slick-backed hair, trying to grease the palms of lawmakers, lying at every opportunity possible. But in this very interesting piece from Biodiesel Magazine, the National Biodiesel Board’s (NBB) Director of State Governmental Affairs, Shelby Neal, makes the case that his job is to educate lawmakers. And with a product as good as biodiesel, he just needs to tell the truth.
I am occasionally asked, “What is the secret to being a good lobbyist?” It is a good and interesting question. The short answer is to simply “be honest and be yourself.” While I’d love to make it more complicated than that (for purposes of job security), the reality is that adherence to these five little words will get you most of the way there.
Before I delve into a longer and perhaps more satisfying answer, I would like to make an essential point, which is that the vast majority of “lobbying” is merely education by another name. We help influencers understand technical information related to biodiesel, its feedstocks, and whatever else might keep them from making informed decisions. The thrilling, vicious, high-stakes world of lobbying pretty much only exists on television. Disappointing, I know.
Real success in the field of government affairs relies on good, old-fashioned relationship-building. And just to be clear, I am not advocating for more toothy-grinned, alpha-networking. Everybody hates that. Or at least I do. No, what I am talking about is developing genuine working relationships based on trust and mutual respect. And maybe even friendships, if you’re lucky. Once someone knows you, likes you, and trusts you, they’ll lend you their time and an open mind. And this, my friends, is fertile ground for biodiesel education. Or lobbying. Whatever you want to call it.
Shelby adds that another “secret” to lobbying success is to be around a lot, be knowledgeable, be persistent but polite, and try to be a good person. In fact, you don’t have to be some kind of registered lobbyist to do that. When you get the opportunity to educate or at least set the record straight on biodiesel, do it. Tell people about how it’s good for the environment, their vehicles, and American jobs. Gee, maybe he’s right. Maybe this lobbying thing isn’t so tough… as long as we’re talking biodiesel.