Somewhere along the line, the word “lobbyist” became a dirty word in politics. Think about those scary-looking ads with newspaper headlines and baritone voice-overs. All too often they describe our elected officials as beholden to lobbyists and “special interests.”
The political world has adapted, coming up with a host of euphemisms that you’ll see in job listings and LinkedIn profiles: Government affairs, issue advocacy, legislative liaison.
Could that change? Charlotte political consultant and communications pro Bryan Holladay hopes so. His firm, CLT Public Relations, is trying to reclaim the term in North Carolina’s largest city, unabashedly promoting itself as a “Charlotte lobbyist” dedicated to getting results at City Hall.
“The term advocacy is viewed as socially more polite and is often used the same way politicians like to refer to themselves, as public servants,” Holladay told Longleaf Politics. But that changes when the chips are down.
“When people get stuck in red tape and need help navigating the government, they are looking to hire a lobbyist.”
Holladay is no stranger to politics. He’s worked behind the scenes on political campaigns, from the local to the Congressional, for years. Most recently, he ran government affairs for the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association at a time where multifamily was booming across the city.
In his new role, though, Holladay will be a lobbyist in a city largely unfamiliar with them. Cities like Chicago, Dallas and Indianapolis have lobbyist registration ordinances, so people are more comfortable embracing the term — and the definition is set in stone.
Plenty of large companies have government affairs teams that would fit the bill. But they often tend to be regional and D.C. focused.
And then there are scores of companies small, medium and large that don’t have anybody to turn to when they need help at City Hall. Today, they tend to hire a law firm or an out-of-town lobbyist who doesn’t always have the right connections.
Of course, Charlotte is no stranger to lobbying activity. They just might not know it.
Take development. Most developers will hire attorneys to represent them in front of the City Council when they have a rezoning plan that needs approved. Neighborhood groups that oppose the project will print up t-shirts, mount email campaigns and distribute flyers.
Both sides here are lobbying. What CLT Public Relations hopes to do is to professionalize and streamline it.
“You might not have the time to attend meetings or learn the process and establish relationships,” Holladay said. “This is where an experienced professional can assist in the process.”
There could potentially be a big opportunity in the startup ecosystem. Charlotte has become a go-to “second city” to roll out scalable models, from grocery delivery to electric scooters.
Charlotte, however, has been less than receptive. The City Council has taken steps to limit or kill companies like Airbnb, Lime, Bird and Uber.
Holladay’s firm also appears to be striking at the right time. After decades of wanting to be a world-class city, Charlotte appears to be finally getting there. Hosting the 2020 Republican National Convention will throw that in even starker relief.
“Charlotte is in this awkward teenage growing stage where the clothes just don’t fit right,” Holladay said. “There will be some adjustment time as Charlotte grows into this new stage.”