A few weeks ago, my mom told me about a conversation she had with one of her friends. The friend asked, “Just what does Stefanie do for a living?” Her response? “I’m not exactly sure.”
When I tell people I’m a lobbyist for an association, I find that I either have to explain what a lobbyist does, what an association is, or, God forbid, both. After 10+ years of doing government relations for associations, there’s still confusion over what exactly I do on a daily basis whether I’m talking to my friends or my coworkers.
It’s best to start off with what I don’t do. I don’t go to Capitol Hill with wads of cash to bribe Members of Congress. I leave that to my unethical comrades. I’m also not having daily three-hour, three martini lunches. That would make me a very unproductive individual who belongs in rehab as opposed to the Rayburn House Office Building. However, there is a very social aspect to this job that I’ll get into in a minute.
In my current job, I represent my association before Congress and the Administration on a number of issues related to mental health, psychological research and traditionally underrepresented populations. It takes relationship building, strategic planning, community outreach, a bit of luck, a prayer or two and a lot of patience to accomplish my goals. No two days are ever alike. One day, I may be giving an issue briefing to my association members. The next, I’m running around the Hill meeting with staff. It’s never a dull moment when 535 unique personalities stand between you and legislative success for your organization.
Socially, being a lobbyist sometimes requires a few late nights in DC. Outside of the standard political fundraiser, some of the best intelligence gathering occurs during happy hour. Yes, even when we’re decompressing from a long day at the office, we’re still talking about work. If you enjoy a good reality show, stop by Johnny’s Half Shell after 6 pm on a Wednesday during a congressional session. It’s sorta like Face the Nation meets speed dating. As with any situation, moderation is key. You don’t want to be featured in the gossip section of the Washington Post as the drunk lobbyist dancing on the bar. Save that for the weekend.
Technology has become an integral part of the lobbyist’s arsenal. Since we’re out of the office quite a bit, we rely on smartphones to connect to the office as needed. Blackberry is still king of Capitol Hill, but it’s slowly being upstaged by the iPhone and various Android devices. Thanks to sites like Facebook and Twitter, lobbyists can follow one congressional hearing while attending another.
I love what I do. Advocacy is a great way to bring positive change. Sure, it has its moments of sheer frustration. I wish political differences could be set aside in favor of genuine compromise. I wish lawmakers would take legislating as seriously as they do fundraising. However, this maddening, super-hyper, type A career is what I chose to do and this association advocacy chick wouldn’t have it any other way.