Down on State Street, Patrizia A. Zita is one of the few female managing partners at a lobbying firm.
She may also be one of the best.
Zita co-founded Kaufman Zita Group with Adam Kaufman in 2007, and today their firm is ranked as fourth-largest in the state based on annual lobbying revenue. Such efforts helped her land on PolitickerNJ’s Power List in 2013 and 2014. And in 2008, she earned a spot on the NJBIZ Best 50 Women in Business list.
Zita, who began her lobbying career with the Chemical Industry Council of New Jersey, has served as a research associate for the New Jersey General Assembly and a legislative assistant for the New York General Assembly. She received committee appointments from both Gov. Jon Corzine and Gov. Richard Codey.
She also has served on the Thomas Edison State College, John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy, advisory board.
NJBIZ recently spoke with Zita about her journey from political science major to co-founding a powerhouse lobbying firm in Trenton.
NJBIZ: Why did you pursue a career in government affairs?
Patrizia Zita: When I was a child, my mom joked that my favorite show was the 6 o’clock news. She always knew I would end up working in government or politics. I have always been fascinated by politics and the dysfunctions in government at times.
My undergraduate degree is in political science and I did an internship for the Legislature in Albany. That sent me on a path of working for the Legislature. I got bit by the political bug and have worked in this world ever since.
NJBIZ: What legislation are you particularly proud to have been a part of?
PZ: I’ve worked on a lot of complex and high profile issues. I tend to work a lot with health care and tax policy issues, but I was most proud that my firm was instrumental in the work that went into passing marriage equality in New Jersey. Some folks said we wouldn’t be able to get it passed in the Senate, but we did. It was exciting to be part of the catalyst that brought marriage equality to New Jersey.
NJBIZ: When you started your lobbying career, were you the only woman at the table?
PZ: When I started lobbying I worked for a trade organization. I would be at board meetings with 30 to 40 people, all of whom where men and I would be the only woman in the room. Over time, that has changed, slowly.
While there is much better representation of women lobbying now than when I started, there still is room for more female firm owners.
NJBIZ: Why was becoming a managing partner important to you?
PZ: There aren’t a lot of named female partners at lobbying firms — at least not in the Top Five or even Top 10. Today, there are more women as general partners than when I started, which is great.
For me it was very important to co-own a lobbying firm because I wanted to do things my way. I found when I was working at someone else’s firm, I’d keep seeing that there was a better way to do things. Ultimately, that’s why I made this decision. I’m fortunate to have Adam Kaufman as my partner. As a team, we feel free to do things our way.
NJBIZ: Do women bring a different skillset to lobbying than men?
PZ: I think women have a different style of lobbying. Generally, women need to have all the information (about the issue) ahead of time. We like to think through each step. We want to know all the possible outcomes before coming up with a strategy. I find my male colleagues start at the conclusion and work backwards. They know where they want to go and then they figure out how to get there. Both are effective styles. There is no right or wrong and I enjoy working with both.
NJBIZ: What’s your next career move?
PZ: I love owning a lobbying firm, being part of government and helping to set public policy. I enjoy being a named partner in this firm. My goal is to continue to grow this firm and tackle really important issues. My short-term and long-term goals are the same — to be thought of as the firm to go to when you have a tough, complicated issue.
After I retire, I’d love to be a political science professor. I would do that as a hobby and teach for free. I really think the practical experience of working in public affairs is so much different (from) the textbook education you get in school. I’d love to be able to teach young people how it really works.
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On Twitter: @dariameoli
Lobbying: Not an Old Boys’ Club anymore
The days of legislation being settled with personal connections, scotch and a slap on the back are waning. Today, lobbyists need data to seal the deal. Three seasoned lobbyists weigh in on how their profession has changed:
- “The new generation of lobbyists is more entrepreneurial in the sense that they are policy analysts in conjunction with being political analysts. Back in the day, you had Democratic lobbyists and Republican lobbyists. I like to think I blurred those lines in my career. Today, lobbying is more substance-driven rather than partisan-driven.” — Anthony E. Pizzutillo, partner, Smith Pizzutillo LLC
- “The basics of lobbying are the same. People have to believe that what you are telling them is coming from a place of expertise and you still must have good relationships. But what has changed lobbying is the need to present solid facts and data to make a compelling case for whatever you are lobbying for. It’s not just enough to say, ‘Oh, I know so-and-so and can get you an audience with a senator or the governor.’
“As technology gets more advanced, the tools we have at our disposal to gather, analyze and share information will continue to change. That will play a bigger role in the kind of information we can present to make our case.
“In that way, I think lobbying is changing for the better.” — Patrizia A. Zita, managing partner, Kaufman Zita Group
- “There has been two significant changes over the last 12 years that I’ve been lobbying. The first is that the clients have become much more sophisticated. Whether the client is a large corporation, an industry association or a nonprofit, they have a better understanding of legislative and regulatory processes. They still look to government affairs professional for expertise; but, because they have an increased level of sophistication, they also expect more.
“The other significant change is the level of professionalism of the staff members in the (governor’s) administration and the Legislature. I find more and more staff members are coming in with advanced degrees or with prior experience in politics, the private sector or in the nonprofit world. They aren’t coming directly from undergrad. They are coming from other careers and they are, therefore, more sophisticated as well.” — Conor G. Fennessy, lobbyist and senior vice president of the public strategy firm Mercury Public Affairs’ New Jersey office
Where men make 79 cents on the dollar
According to a study by LegiStorm, in the U.S., an average contract between a client and a single female lobbyist was worth more than a contract between a client and a single male lobbyist.
The average contract amount between a woman and a client in 2012 was $33,289, while the average contract for a male lobbyist was $26,299. Contracts between a two-woman team of lobbyists and a client averaged $23,542, while two-man teams averaged $17,855.