The Principle of "Who You Know and What You Know" in Lobbying

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 845 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Aug 1, 2022

Words: 845|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Aug 1, 2022

This essay will critically analyze the claim that ‘Lobbying is about who you know, not what you know’, drawing upon relevant research conducted by Bertrand et al, Salisbury et al and Parvin. There is an alternative claim that lobbying is about who you know and what you know which will be explored here. Key factors in being a good lobbyist, in this latter hypothesis, include: connections with the elite class and essential specific knowledge, predominately gained in previous employment in three areas; policy-decision making and process, the legislative system, and political concerns. However, academics such as McGrath contradict the proposed statement by stating that there are only three important things to know about lobbying; ‘contacts, contacts, contacts’, highlighting the opposing claim that access to connections is the most important aspect. The multiple definitions of lobbying often lead to confusion, but for the purpose of this essay, lobbying will be defined as individuals seeking to influence policy for specific audiences through campaign awareness, highlighting current political/environmental issues.

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Researchers have examined the notion that lobbying is about who you know or what you know since the late 1980s. The Salisbury et al paper highlights that our world is a knowledge-based world and that it’s important to have relevant knowledge of the policy process and lobbying. Alternatively, Bertrand et al argue that connections between lobbyists and politicians are a ‘relevant asset in defining their job’. Both looked at the importance of previous federal employment in assisting lobbyists’ new jobs. Lastly, Parvin’s paper differs as it examines the role of lobbying British politics. However, a cautionary note about this report is that it does not specifically set out to answer which area of lobbying is most important. These reports were the most relevant. However, Salisbury et al study must be taken with vigilance because it was piloted a long time ago; and both the political and lobbying landscape has changed dramatically since. Despite this, findings from more recent studies highlight the still accurate 1989 findings and that the important aspects of lobbying have not changed much.

It is important to consider alternative criteria that make lobbying what it is. Parvin’s empirical findings, collected through interviews and surveys in July 2006 by Communicate Research on behalf of Hansard Society, examine three groups: MPs, lobbyists, and lobby journalists across the UK, illustrating that to be successful one must have all of the following qualities; transparency, accountability, and effectiveness. Therefore, lobbying is about having enduring and open-honest relationships with MPs as it allows lobbyists to become trusted and reliable insiders to the policy process. Hence, it is important for lobbying to be transparent which is made possible by the government tackling the revolving door syndrome because policy ideas have become based on the self-interest of those in power through underhand tactics that do not benefit society. Likewise, it has become unethical and is a ‘corrupting force that undermines democracy’. Therefore, the notion that information and reputation of connections complement each other should be researched further because it is equally important to consider reputation because the reality of policy-making would then actually represent society’s needs.

To be a good lobbyist, bringing about change in the political setting, one must have a vital understanding of three things: how the legislative system works, knowledge relevant to the interest areas, this is acquired from previous governmental positions, and an understanding of how decision-making and policy process works. Salisbury et al highlight the argument that lobbying is about contacts because it is common knowledge that success depends heavily upon maintaining and creating warm personal relationships with officials and that these are key to successful lobbying because warm contacts will respond favorably when asked to do things of benefit to both parties. Likewise, Parvin’s research findings illustrate that some background lobbyists will be unsuccessful; thus emphasizing the importance of both the right contacts and having the right knowledge. Consequently, having both knowledge and connections will ensure that policies fought for by lobbyists will be implemented more effectively and quickly.

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These points, that what you know far outweighs who you know, are supported by Salisbury et al’s findings which found that previous government experience was valuable as a role of lobbyists in terms of knowledge about the policy process, content, and of gaining contacts made through colleagues. Furthermore, what you know is favored in previous studies, as highlighted by Milbrath reporting that the lobbyists he interviewed did not find contacts as important, whilst Heclo argued that contacts of officials are only useful as long as they are in office. Salisbury et al investigations, conducted through interviews in Washington and developed through an ‘extended process of discussions with experienced Washington Lobbyists and observers’ validated findings found that 87% of participant’s previous experience in government was helpful in their current work; that 80% gained awareness of the policy decision-making process whilst 70% of participants developed an understanding of current issues. Consequently, Salisbury et al use of surveys differs slightly from the claim that both are important by arguing that knowledge of policies and process is more important than having personal connections in the right place.  

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Dr. Oliver Johnson

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The Principle Of “Who You Know And What You Know” In Lobbying. (2022, August 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 21, 2024, from
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