Dale Florio’s Secret to Success
The view from the second-floor window of Dale Florio’s Trenton office at 160 State Street is dominated by the granite and glass of New Jersey’s sprawling State Capitol complex. For the leader and founder of Princeton Public Affairs Group (PPAG), it’s the site of nearly three decades of competition that’s pushed his team to a string of best-in-class industry awards and a winning record for clients. PPAG has consistently earned the #1 ranking for 15 years running.
But there’s nothing of the swagger or braggadocio one might expect of someone who’s coached a bipartisan team of a-list lobbyists in America’s famously tough and unpredictable state governments. Florio’s modus operandi is quite the opposite — confident in what he and his team can deliver, but characteristically uncomfortable with anything close to puffery or trash talking the competition.
“I think it was just the way I was brought up,” he says of his instinct to share or deflect praise. “Whether it was my family or just always participating in team sports. I look at some of the coaches I had when I was in grammar school or high school and it was always about the team. It really is just second nature to me.” To know Dale Florio, one must first understand competitive sports before the Age of Instagram.
A Point Guard, Not a Showboat
As one of New Jersey’s best-known Republican insiders — a red star in a blue sea — Florio’s recruitment strategy is the key to both survival and success. For decades, PPAG’s ability to compete in any political environment has been its adeptness in pulling top talent from both parties. Public affairs professionals have been drawn to the firm because of its reputation for by-the-book ethics and undisputed outcomes.
“When I look at Princeton Public Affairs Group, we have a lot of people here that are accomplished in their own right,” he says about his team. “We have different spheres of influence, but somebody has to keep that all together. You have to manage the development of the brand.”
As Republican fortunes in the Garden State rise and fall, Florio is willing to step out of the way to allow PPAG’s diverse bench to lead when his title as Trenton’s Mr. Republican gets in the way of winning. “Sometimes it just means that you can’t be the front person. Somebody has to be thinking: ‘Who should be the front person for this particular event or piece of legislation?’” He adds, “As the founder of PPAG, I think that’s my role.”
Never Too Much Time in the Paint
If balanced player rotation is part of the PPAG formula for success, so is the way victories are shared with clients. Florio’s old-world values always spotlight the clients. He doesn’t want his team taking victory laps with trophies, and they never do.
“I think it’s fundamental that the firm and/or the individual (lobbyist) is not out in front of the issue or the client. The client wants to know that they are with a firm or individual that’s going to help them achieve their goals.”
What about social media? What about a political culture that rewards the audacious self-promoter and lives in an ecosystem of self-glorification? Shouldn’t PPAG be a little less reluctant to strut in a world of 24-hour preening?
“Social media might suggest that the advocate should be more visible — or the firm should be more visible — but I think that we temper that approach and make sure that we are not out in front of the client or the issue itself,” he argues. In Dale Florio’s world, that’s not what clients are paying him for. He adds, “Advice, counsel, and achieving their objectives. It’s worked for us and I don’t see that changing.”
Coaching the Next Generation: Four Florio Rules
Florio’s passion for competition hasn’t been limited to the political field of play. 2020 will mark the first season in eighteen years he won’t be coaching a basketball team. Weekends dedicated to drilling the fundamentals into high school athletes are now willingly surrendered to grandkids. Basketball season has finally given way to the home team. “I thank God for my wife because she’s the one who says, ‘Dale, come on now, we are not going to be young forever. We need to spend each of these weekends leading up to the holidays with the kids.’”
For those aspiring to a Florio-level of success in one of the ficklest and more temperamental professions, he’s always willing to yield the following advice:
First, be a good writer. “You need to be able to take an issue and do the best you can. To articulate verbally or in writing in a very concise manner.”
Second, be a reader. “You need to know as much as you can about a lot of things. If you’re at the federal level, you’ll have a chance to specialize, but if you’re going to be a State lobbyist, then you really need to understand what’s going on.”
Third, be respectful. “Sometimes I still call people ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs.’ who are 20 years younger than me because my parents raised me that way — it comes natural now. I’m finding myself to be, more often than not, the older person.” Florio is effusive in praising his parents for this one.
Fourth, enjoy politics. “If you don’t, you’re not going to like this because there’s going to be a lot of things that are going to challenge your moral character — what you believe is right and wrong. You should never compromise that, but you need to learn to live in and around people who do. Be aware of this reality but set yourself apart.”
In coaching, marriage, parenting, and life, Trenton’s “Nice Guy” is proving that sharing credit and leading by doing is a formula for endurance. Dale Florio has taken the long path up the mountain, but he’s stayed far longer than most. Don’t look for him to abandon his perch any time soon.