Everything you think you know about lobbyists is probably wrong

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A lobbyist serves as the intermediary between the American people and their government, says David French, succinctly describing his task of advocating for the retail industry in the nation’s capital. As NRF’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, French brings his passion for politics and his ability to clearly explain complex issues to his role as the liaison between retailers and Capitol Hill. “Lobbying is really cool,” he says, pointing out that “it’s actually written into the Constitution,” since the First Amendment gives Americans the right to petition their government.

On this week’s episode of Retail Gets Real, French sits down with co-hosts Susan Reda and Bill Thorne for a candid discussion about lobbying, lobbyists and the inner workings of Capitol Hill. French also explains how NRF helps retailers tell their stories in Washington, D.C.

“A good lobbyist is really ethical,” French says, countering a common myth about the profession. He stresses the importance for a lobbyist to be able to accurately represent both sides of an issue: “To be a good lobbyist, you have to have earned the trust of the people you’re working with,” he says. Presenting the entire story is a way to gain that credibility.

As a lobbyist for the largest retail trade association in the world, a big part of French’s job is communicating with NRF members to help build a consensus as to what the priorities are for the industry as a whole. He also helps retail representatives present their case in meetings with Congress. “I remind them that [they] are the retail experts,” he says about prepping small business owners and CEOs of larger corporations alike.

David French in the podcast studio

David French in the podcast studio

“People think lobbyists are trying to persuade members of Congress,” he says about another common misconception. “We’re not trying to persuade. We’re educating members of Congress.” Policymakers may feel they know what is going on in the industry because they are consumers who shop, French says; in reality, they are unaware of hidden aspects like distribution, supply chain mechanics, the importance of data and how retailers are continually reinventing themselves in order to appeal to customers.

French stresses the importance of retailers having open communication channels with the Capitol. “As a retailer, if you can bring a member of Congress into your store, spend 15 minutes with them, educate them on how the process works, it’s valuable,” he says, describing how Senator Durbin became a strong proponent for forcing banks to compete on debit card swipe fees.

Listen to the episode to learn how advocacy helps the industry as a whole and how retailers can share their perspectives with elected officials at events like NRF’s Retail Advocates Summit, which brings retailers to D.C. this week for meetings on Capitol Hill.

Susan Reda is one of NRF’s co-hosts on Retail Gets Real. Meet all the co-hosts and learn more about the show.