Lobbyists have significant influence over the political process.
Corporations and special interest groups pay lobbyists exorbitant fees to influence the legislative process and to represent their interests in Washington and state capitols. It's common knowledge that good lobbyists can secure benefits, contracts, and other perks for their clients.
Small businesses usually lack the resources to hire their own lobbyists. Instead, they participate in business and trade associations that employ political power brokers to influence legislation that benefits all of the association's members. In many cases, lobbyists also play an important role in keeping the association's members informed about legislative topics and pending issues.
The process for hiring lobbyists is the same whether the client is an independent company or a trade association. When it comes to political lobbyists, cost isn't always an indication of quality. To hire the right lobbyist, you'll need to apply common sense and a handful of proven hiring tips.
- Determine goals. Before you can start the hiring process, you need to determine your reasons for wanting to hire a lobbyist in the first place. If your interest in hiring a lobbyist is to guarantee the procurement of special favors, forget it. Even the best lobbyists fall short sometimes. But if you're interested in talking to lawmakers about a specific issue or having a long-term legislative presence, you're on the right track.
- Make a short list of prospects. The next step is to create a short list of prospective lobbying firms. Many states are required to maintain a public list of lobbyists. You can also locate prospects by asking around in business circles, but focus on identifying lobbyists who are familiar with your industry and share your perspective on the issues that are important to you.
- Consider conflicts. After you have created a short list of prospects, conduct research to make sure the firm is a good fit for your goals. You especially want to make sure the lobbyist's current and past client list won't conflict with viewpoints. For example, a lobbying firm that advocates for fast food franchises would not be a good fit for an association that is dedicated to fighting childhood obesity.
- Evaluate experience. It's important to evaluate the lobbying and legislative experience of each prospect. Good lobbyists have several different types of backgrounds. However, it can be extremely useful to hire a lobbying firm that is staffed by former lawmakers or legislative aides.
- Interview candidates. Finally, you'll need to interview your top two or three prospects. Ideally, you should have chemistry with the lobbyist you select because you will be counting on them to represent you and your interests.