New analysis from the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) has found that trade groups are relying more heavily on advertising than traditional lobbying for influence and to achieve their goals. CPI’s analysis of the tax records of 144 trade groups from 2008 to 2012 found that trade groups spent 37% of their total contractor budgets on advertising, PR and marketing. In total trade groups spent $1.26 billion on advertising, public relations and marketing services, nearly twice as much as the $682.2 million that was directed toward legal, lobbying and government affairs.
The heavy reliance on the use of advertising can be at least partly attributed to the greater freedoms the advertising industry has when compared to lobbying, due to lack of regulation. According to Erin Quinn and Chris Young , the authors of the report, “Public relations work, unlike lobbying, is not subject to federal disclosure rules, and PR and advertising campaigns can potentially influence a broader group of people.” Similarly, Edward Walker, a sociology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles argues that, “The trade associations that rely most on PR and advertising campaigns are usually those representing industries facing the heaviest regulation and the most public contempt.”
In the end, the overall effect this trend will have on the lobbying industry remains to be seen. However some people, such as Doug Pinkham, President of the Public Affairs Council, have suggested that “The gradual shift from a focus on traditional lobbying toward greater use of the “outside game of politics,” or communications like PR, has been going on for at least a decade…but is now accelerating with advances in technology, social media and digital strategies.” Nevertheless, lobbyists should note that while lobbying expenditures peaked in 2010 at $3.6 billion, have they have since declined steadily, falling to $3.24 billion in 2013 and $3.21 billion in 2014, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Meanwhile in 2013, the global public relations industry grew 11% over the previous year to $12.5 billion, according to trade journal The Holmes Report.