But these savvy professionals also know that reputation matters. And they know that theirs stinks.
“Everybody has that misconception that lobbyists are walking around with a pocketful of cash and that’s about it,” said Monte Ward, the group’s president.
Ouch. That’s got to hurt.
Ward, who’s been a lobbyist since 1997, says he’s proud of the work he does. And he promises that, even after it changes its name, the group won’t run away from its work defending the interests of lobbyists and helping them be more ethical.
But as he told the group’s 1,200 members in a letter announcing that a name change was under consideration: “The new brand will seek to fully represent the broad range of responsibilities that a government relations professional practices daily.”
In this high-stakes rebranding exercise, the field was quickly narrowed to two edgy choices: the Association of Government Relations Professionals and — wait for it — the National Association of Government Relations Professionals.
The board of directors had some tense discussions, and there were a few early October focus groups — hot meal included — to test the names with people who work in lobbying and government relations, both members of the group and non-members.
On Monday, the board finalized its decision. On Tuesday, Ward said he would ask the group’s members to approve the switch to the Association of Government Relations Professionals. (The board also approved a new tag line: “Voice of the Lobbying, Public Policy and Advocacy Professions.”) Members will have 30 days to vote. The group’s bylaws require two-thirds approval before the name can be changed.
Although the association had considered changing its name in 2000, and the topic has come up a few times since then, things got serious after a long-term strategic plan was completed early this year. There were surveys and other research revealing that a majority of members no longer identify themselves only as lobbyists. Some people argued that while the training the group offers had kept up with the changing times — with sessions such as “Online Advocacy” and “Grassroots & Coalitions” — the group’s name felt too narrow. And, in the dog-eat-dog association world, some board members noted that the move could help draw in a few more members.
While the process appeared to be smooth, the decision to drop the term “lobbyists” wasn’t unanimous.
“I understand that it carries baggage. It always has,” said Howard Marlowe, who preceded Ward as president of the group and thinks the name should stay as it is.