From TAPinto By KRISTINA BEHR
TRENTON, NJ — 35 years ago this month, before becoming one of most influential public affairs groups in New Jersey, Princeton Public Affairs Group (PPAG) had just two clients, Philip Morris and Essex County.
Hundreds of clients later, it has been consistently named New Jersey’s number one lobbying firm for the last 15 years in a row.
“We don’t like to talk about it that way,” said Dale J. Florio, Esq., founder of PPAG. “You always feel like, I suspect it’s like this in every business, they’re either measuring themselves by you or they’re gunning for you. Probably a little of both. So we just keep our head down and do our thing. It’s just not me. There’s a group of us.”
For Florio, it’s hard to choose the legislation or case that he’s most proud of from the last three decades. Looking back, Florio says, sometimes, it’s the legislation that didn’t happen is what he remembers the most. He points to a recent case, where a pro bono client was trying to stop the sale of baby mattresses that that didn’t come with the cribs after her infant had died from suffocation.
“She was trying to pass legislation that would try to ban those types of mattresses,” Florio said.
“While we weren’t successful, three weeks ago, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of those types of mattresses. So she had stayed with it, took it all the way to the federal level, but she credits our state effort as helping her build some credibility to the issue. She was able to make the case and it picked up steam. Those are the kinds of things you get involved with, that made us feel good,” he said.
Florio says he works with a variety of clients to help give them a voice. Those clients, according to PPAG, are then matched with a team member based on appropriate areas of expertise that include education, health care, gaming, transportation, public safety, banking, insurance, energy, environment, land-use development, corporate communications, labor and employment, hospitality, and entertainment.
“We call ourselves advocates,” Florio said.
“It is important because the regulatory process and legislative process play such a big role in everyday life where the average person doesn’t understand. They don’t know what’s going on. So there are people like us who represent those interests and figure out a strategy to either get something passed or stopped,” he said. “Much like everyone deserves their day in court with a lawyer, we think everyone deserves their day in what we call the court of public opinion with someone who is advocating on their behalf.”
One of the biggest lessons he’s learned while working on legislation with his clients, is the art of listening, which he admits can sometimes be challenging.
“In this world of politics and legislative affairs, people can easily talk past each other rand you miss out on an opportunity to reach a reasonable compromise. That’s really what life is about — compromising,” Florio said.
“Whether you’re a little kid in the school yard trying to figure out how to get your way, maybe you have to share your toy. Or maybe you get married and have a relationship, it’s always compromise. No different from what we do. Whether you are working on a piece of legislature there’s people that are for it and people that are against it,” he added.
“And you shouldn’t look past the opportunity to reach a compromise. But you have to listen to what the other side is saying. Especially in this world of social media,” Florio said.
Listening and compromise, Florio says, will help continue the legacy of PPAG, for another 35 years and beyond.
“I can say one thing about what we do. Nothing is going to make us irrelevant,” Florio promised.
“That face to face conversation, that ability to talk to a legislator, or a key staff member about why this is a good thing or it’s a bad thing you can’t replace that. We’ll still be doing what we’re doing. I certainly hope the business will still exist,” he said. “I’ve told my wife repeatedly I would have greater happiness just to know that the business can continue without me. If you build something, you want to see it last even beyond the time you spend with it.”