The process of hiring a lobbying firm is often more challenging than hiring a typical business consultant or third-party provider.
Most business leaders are unfamiliar with the world of political lobbying and lobbyists don't go out of their way to recruit any businesses other than high profile corporations.
However, with a little persistence and creativity, the leaders of smaller organizations can locate lobbyists that are capable of representing their interests with lawmakers. Through personal referrals and research, it's possible to create a short list of two or three lobbying firms that meet your budget and legislative requirements.
After you have created a short list, it's time to jump on a plane and head to Washington D.C. to conduct personal interviews. For many business leaders, an interview trip is an exciting experience. But it can also be a daunting one since you may not know the right questions to ask prospective lobbyists. Take a deep breath, refuse to be intimidated, and use our list of questions to guide the interview process.
- How many staff members? Some firms have as many as 70 lobbyists on their payroll; others are one-man operations with a single lobbyist on staff. More staff members may (or may not) indicate a greater depth of resources. The downside is that multi-staff firms also charge more than smaller shops.
- How many clients? A firm with a high volume of clients is like a busy restaurant – they're clearly doing something right. But as the firm's client volume increases, it's more likely that your concerns will get lost in the shuffle and that conflicts of interest will arise. Look for assurances that your interests will be a priority.
- Which branches of government do you specialize in? As the client, you have specific goals for the lobbying process. That means you'll want a firm with contacts in the branch of government or agency that is capable of advancing your objectives.
- What industries do you represent? Lobbying firms tend to specialize in specific industries. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all lobbyist. Evaluate each prospect's area of expertise and make your decision accordingly.
- Can you describe any recent successes? Recent failures? Paid lobbying is about delivering results for clients. It's not unreasonable to ask prospects to discuss recent successes and failures. The successes will give you a sense of the firm's capacity to deliver actual outcomes; the failures will indicate the firm's transparency and willingness to admit that there are no guarantees in the American political process.