Whether you agree with it or not, lobbying is the grease that turns the wheels of American politics.
Well-connected firms have a reputation for delivering legislative results for their clients. In some cases, a good lobbyist can even play a role in the awarding of government contracts to the organizations they represent.
For business organizations, the key is hiring the right lobbyist. While a good lobbyist can be a game-changer, a mismatched lobbying firm can drain your resources without delivering any substantive results. In a nutshell, the hiring process involves creating a short list of prospective firms and then conducting personal interviews to determine which firm is the best match for your budget and legislative objectives.
Hiring a lobbying firm doesn't have to be a source of anxiety for business leaders. To stay on track, you'll just need to keep your eye on what you're trying to achieve and follow a handful of tips gleaned from the experiences of other business leaders.
- Check references. It's completely normal for new clients to ask firms for lists of previous (or existing) clients. Contact several previous clients for referrals, but evaluate the entire list to determine if the firm has experience in your industry and whether conflicts of interest may exist.
- Target industry-specific firms. One of the goals of the hiring process is to locate a firm that specializes in your industry. A first-rate lobbyist who specializes in a different industry isn't nearly as valuable as a good lobbyist who specializes in your industry because they won't have the right political contacts or expertise.
- Ask about budgets. Cost is always a consideration when hiring a paid lobbyist. In addition to the firm's monthly retainer, you will also need to budget for incidental expenses and political donations. Ask the firm to provide an estimate of your total financial commitment before you make a hiring decision.
- Discuss working relationship. Successful engagements hinge on the relationship between the lobbyist and the client. As the client, you will be expected to play a significant role in the process. Look for firms that recognize your role and make an extra effort to keep you in the loop about legislative developments.
- Prepare for transparency. All lobbying expenses are a matter of public record. Interested in hiring a lobbyist to conduct a "covert operation" for your organization? Don't even think about it. Whether you like it or not, your relationship and transactions will become public knowledge. Prepare for transparency and go out of your way to keep your relationships above board.