So why the time-management disconnect? Some lobbyists argue that there really isn't one—that bosses have wrongheaded expectations about how a shop should spend its days.
One area on which heads of government-affairs offices thought employees were spending too much time was trade-association, member, and client management. But the lobbyists we spoke to say that's not a distraction—it is a crucial part of the job. Some folks spend a lot of time on the Hill, one former automobile lobbyist says; others spend "huge blocks of time" on conference calls, reporting to corporate clients. "If all you have is shoe-leather lobbyists ... that won't work," she says. "Clients are very demanding." One lobbyist whose portfolio includes education policy agrees. "A lot of your time as a lobbyist is servicing the needs of people who call you," he says.
And that's as it should be, says one health care lobbyist: "If anything, I think we need to do a better job of reaching out to our membership and having substantive conversations. We can send out as many emails as we want, but if you're not having substantive, interactive conversations, we can't effectively represent them or get their buy-in."
The current health care landscape also requires lobbyists to understand policy at a different level, she says: "You can't effectively represent your members unless you know what's happening on the ground." Nor can you bring much to your relationships on the Hill if you're not well-informed. "I think a lot of people can get in the door by name alone—people will be polite and accept meetings—but in order to have a good chance to influence policy, or even to be effectively heard, one needs to understand that policy to have a credible voice."
And speaking of managing relationships on the Hill, does that count as "lobbying"? Even some lobbyists themselves aren't entirely sure. "If you're an energy company and you haven't spent a whole bunch of time getting to know John Dingell, you've committed malpractice," says one tobacco lobbyist. "You want to have some relationship with every senator, everyone from the Southern delegation. Is that lobbying? You're not necessarily talking about bill A or bill B." And if you're in the Washington office of a big company, you've got to spend some time maintaining your relationships with Hill staffers. "Every time you go in, you don't want to be asking for something," he says.
If the heads of office are including relationship-building in their definition of lobbying, then the aspired-to numbers "might be right," he allows. But "just saying, "˜I want my guy to lobby more,' is ignorant without knowing the context of each individual person." He says he thinks the gap mainly reflects the average head of office's view that "my people should be working harder." He adds, "That does tell you something, which I've known for a lot of years: Most lobbyists are "¦ lazy unless you put the spurs to them."