Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Basics of Lobbying for Better Regulations

We often spend so much time seeing what is wrong, or simply duplicitous, in the world around us that we forget something can be done to make it better. This is further compounded by our attention to national news and the belief that our local problems are somehow unique to our own area.

The perception and reality of the luxury transportation industry is a bit different.  The public views the
vehicles and our pricing strategies as an indicationof luxury and excess; weunderstand the reality of slim profit margins and regulation from multiple entities.  These opposing views sometimes lead regulators to misunderstand the concerns of our industry when enacting rules and regulations upon us. The following information may help you formulate a plan for grassroots lobbying for fairer regulations.

To ground some terms that may seem unclear, let us look at lobbying, to start. Top of mind images that
are conjured when the word lobbying is mentioned generally involve removed individuals in expensive suits making backroom deals with public officials, and, although that may be true, that is not the only type of lobbying that can be done. Grassroots lobbying, which is the opposite of the aforementioned kind, is more than just a protest. The reality of grassroots lobbying is a combination of the two, and somewhere more toward the middle; it is more than the expression of free speech. Local, grassroots lobbying is a concerted effort to organize other citizens to contact public officials to affect public policy.

Now that we have the definitions and context out of the way, we can discuss why and how you should consider grassroots lobbying to affect change. Why should you lobby for change when our industry has
lobbyists in Washington, D.C. working on our behalf? The same reason you may consider lobbying for local issues on a personal level, which is that your unique situation may get lost in the crowd, so to speak.
Let’s look at an example: your municipality has regulations in place mandating insurance and lead time requirements, but it is proposing to change these regulations to include technology-based, application-
driven transportation. Do you sit back or do you take action to keep consumer safety priority in place? Either way, you only have one chance to do something about your local issues, and if you “have skin in the game,” you also have motivation to consider grassroots lobbying.

You only have one chance to do something about your local issues, and  if you “have skin in the game,” you also have motivation to consider grassroots lobbying.


The simpler part was figuring out why you should contact public officials, but the how part is where people get lost. We have all heard people say, “I don’t vote because my one vote doesn’t matter…,” or something similar. The cause may not be indifference but more commonly, in my experience, you do not know where to begin. Where does one begin? Studies suggest that there is statistically significant evidence proving that the voting results on legislation by politicians is affected through grassroots lobbying. Telephone calls are more effective than email, and in-person meetings, if able to be arranged, are most effective,  according to research data.

Reach Out and Identify the Issues
You have your issue that needs attention. To begin your lobbying efforts it helps to have strength in numbers, so now is the time to see whether local colleagues and associations have interest in helping you. If you are not already in contact with them, this is the perfect time to overlook your ego. Get to know them, at least on a professional level. In meeting with them, formalize a strategy. By sitting down to discuss a strategy, you will be able to discuss the issues, find common ground, and see who may have local political contacts. These contacts will prove to be instrumental during the next step. After you have discussed the issues, put them into a formal letter that can serve as a baseline for your future communication with politicians. I had a professor who said, “If you want to join a conversation, you have to speak the language.” This may seem simple, but having common goals stated makes discussion of the details easier for all people involved in the grassroots effort as you move forward.

Do Your Research, Strategize and Contact
Now you have a plan, but you have not made much action. During that meeting, you need to compile a list of key players in the political arena who have a vote in your issue. Common sense would imply that personal meetings are likely easier with local politicians, and that having a regular communication channel would
facilitate the dialogue. By this I mean reach out to your politicians before you need help. If you regularly contact their office about what they are doing, it will make it easier for you to ask for their help when you need it. Common sense aside, you need to make contact, and email may be the first step. That formal letter you typed up with your issues will come in handy now. Your group of concerned citizens—or it may just be you—will need to email it to the politicians. I would recommend a personal note to them and attach the “form letter,” as it is more substantive. If your emails are going to state level legislators, take note that they require a specific number of “calls to action” from constituents on an issue in a day, so coordinate a specific day to start your campaign. Yes, it is a campaign now, and you need to keep it organized like one. Set regular email times, postal mailing times and telephone calls to the public
official’s office.

“The Ask”
At some point, you will inevitably get a response, and the next phase of your grassroots campaign will be to actually meet with the politician. Know your facts. Let me say that again, know your facts. Notice how I shared empirical evidence earlier? Anecdotal evidence is great, but it is greater to back it up with numbers.

It is not enough to go in and say, “This rule change is going to hurt my business.” You will have to do some research, so when you say that you can add, “Due to the insurance gaps afforded internet-based transportation companies and the encouragement of non-professionally trained or vetted drivers, a change in the local regulations could put less insured, less background checked individuals behind the wheel of vehicles. This breach of consumer protection will negatively impact the traditional for-hire business, as our insurance premiums increased X percent last year alone. Additionally, our required pricing standards that this municipality regulates are not followed by internet-based companies, which use surge pricing during peak times and this negatively impacts my bottom line, as traditional companies are not allowed to do this.” This is just one example of something that may be going on somewhere in our industry. Whatever the issue, back it up with statistics, if possible. Remember to discuss the issues, keep emotions out of the room, and have a handout with the pertinent information to leave behind. This way the politician can review the information you shared with them, and if there are further questions, he can reach out to you.

Follow Through
Do not expect a firm commitment to your cause from the meeting. You do not make hasty decisions without doing your research, and neither will the politician. Regroup sometime after the meeting with your grassroots campaigners and pen a letter to thank the politician, which can also be sent to the letter-to-editor of your local newspapers. Additionally, this is 2014 and social media is a powerful tool. You should also be promoting your cause on those outlets, which is a great way to get more attention to your issue. I will not go into details, but I will encourage you to keep it classy, as they say. As you move forward from the first meeting, try to have a community meeting and invite the politicians to come. Invite the media, if it is possible. Then follow up with more letters to thank them for their support, and keep those telephone calls happening as the vote draws near. This process may not go as smoothly as the last few sentences, but keep the issue out there in front of the politicians and the media. It may help to garner the assistance of supporting industries that are also affected by the issues. For example, hotels, conference centers and tourism agencies are companies that deal with the same clients you provide service. As a side note, it may be beneficial to reach out to your insurance company to see if you can get their support, if that applies to your issue, as they may have data to support your cause.

Proactive Engagement
I just explained something to you that you could have figured out on your own, so why did I do it? We all need to be reminded that we are facing the same issues as an industry. Yes, the scale may vary, but the scope is similar. We need to be more proactive about our own industry, and there is no better place than within your own community.

Furthermore, grassroots lobbying is much cheaper than a hired lobbyist for smaller issues, and it can complement larger ones. The benefits of grassroots lobbying are getting to know your colleagues, fostering relationships with politicians and affecting positive change in the industry on a local level.

GRASSROOTS CHECKLIST:
  • Reach out to your local colleagues to get their support 

  • Identify your areas of concern
  • Do your research
  • Make a formal strategy and action plan
  • Develop a formal letter to disseminate
  • Mail, email and call the public official
  • Meet with the politicians who can affect change
  • Actively engage in social media with the official/media outlets
  • Thank them
  • Follow up with them
  • Hold a public forum (if applicable) and invite media
  • Thank them again
  • Don't stop the mailing and calling
  • *********************************************************************************

    J. Nathan Higdon, MBA
    J. Nathan Higdon, MBA is the co-founder of L’Espace Motorcoach, Inc. in East Tennessee, a serial entrepreneur, and a lifelong student. He is a Ph.D. candidate at Oklahoma State University in Business where he focuses his research on the effects of diversity and productivity in the workplace. He can be reached at Nathan.Higdon@lespacemotorcoach.com or @jnathanhigdon on Twitter.

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