Hiring a Lobbyist: 101
You don’t have to be a huge multi-national conglomerate to benefit from the help of Washington lobbyists. Businesses and advocacy groups large and small can ensure their voices are heard by using lobbyists to advocate for them with lawmakers and bureaucrats. Not all lobbying firms have the same skillsets and specialties, so it’s important to choose a firm that has the experience and connections needed to deliver results.
There’s an old saying in Washington, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” This means that companies and groups whose voices and interests go unheard by legislators and rule-makers often miss out on opportunities that their better-connected competitors may snap up, or may end up being adversely impacted by new laws or regulations.
This is also true at the state level, where new rules and regulations with immediate impacts on local and regional businesses are regularly enacted. Municipal governments can even benefit from hiring a lobbyist when issues affecting their communities are debated at the state and federal level.
For example, a small town reliant on a nearby military base for jobs may want to hire a lobbyist to represent its interests during Base Realignment and Closure commission hearings, which have closed more than 350 installations between 1988 and today. Good advocacy by a lobbying firm can make the difference between a base in your community being closed or a base in another community without a lobbyist being closed.
In 2016, companies, interest groups, and others spent more than $3.12 billion on lobbying, employing more than 11,143 lobbyists to make their cases before lawmakers and regulatory authorities. If you’re in a competitive industry or are involved in advocacy on a potentially controversial issue, you can rest assured your rivals have someone in Washington or your state capital pleading their case. You need someone doing the same for you—but choosing the right someone is imperative.
What Are Your Goals?
Before hiring a lobbyist, it’s important to have a clear idea of the specific results you want to achieve. Vague or unspecified goals do not give the lobbyist a good grasp of what you would like to accomplish, impairing his or her ability to inform you whether these goals are feasible and impacting the lobbyist’s ability to deliver results.
Your lobbyist can’t tell other people what you want if you’re not sure what you want yourself. With a clearly stated goal, a lobbyist can inform you whether he or she can help you and suggest alternative goals if the stated goal is unachievable.
What Are the Lobbyist’s Areas of Expertise?
Different industries and issues have different players and priorities. When choosing professional lobbyists to represent you, it’s important to find a firm whose lobbyists have connections to important players in your area of interest and who have expertise in the policy details that may impact it.
For example, while a firm may have great relationships with members of Congress deeply involved in education issues and personnel with extensive experience in the ins and outs of education policy, that same firm may have very few connections with defense contracting matters—a very complicated area of government. When picking your lobbyist, make sure that the firm has experience in working within your area of interest and has staff members who understand your issues.
If you’re having trouble finding a lobbyist with expertise in your area, check out this database from OpenSecrets.org. This database includes information from financial reports filed by Washington lobbyists. You can see which lobbyists that organizations with interests similar to yours are hiring and giving money to. Armed with this information, you can find the top firms in your interest area.
When hiring lobbying representation, it is important to choose an organization that can offer the support you need. There’s a lot more to lobbying than lunches with members of Congress and directing campaign contributions to supportive legislators. Some lobbying services your business or organization may need include:
- Monitoring legislation – A good lobbyist protects your interests by keeping his or her ear to the ground regarding legislation or new administrative rules that may impact your company or interest group. The lobbying company you hire needs the connections and technological tools to get wind of new laws and analyze them to determine whether they will benefit or negatively impact your interests. It’s also important to keep a watch on new laws and regulations as they go through legislative and administrative processes because what begins as an innocuous or favorable new law or rule can become a detriment to your interests in the blink of an eye.
- Funding experts – Good lobbyists can help clients, who are interested in securing government grants or business relationships with government entities, with practical advice and help. Lobbying companies can help businesses and organizations seeking grant funding to craft their proposals to fall in line with government requirements and preferences for grantees. With regard to government contracts, your lobbying firm can help you play up features of your business that might appeal to government priorities, such as having a woman-owned status or disability-friendly workplace.
- Strategic communications – Good lobbying isn’t just a matter of scheduling a few meetings and making a few presentations. Your company or organization needs a consistent and coherent message for both internal and external use. A good lobbying company will work with your organization’s stakeholders to craft a message and deliver it to those who need to hear it—within your organization and outside it.
- Grassroots organization – There’s a limit to how many campaign contributions you can make and their effectiveness. Members of Congress and federal rule-makers are also responsive to input from citizens. A well-organized grassroots effort to show up at town hall meetings and regulatory agencies’ public hearings and swamp offices with phone calls, and even petition efforts can make a big impact on legislative and administrative decisions if well executed. A good lobbying firm can help you organize a legion of active and enthusiastic citizens to support your cause via traditional means and the new ways of influencing decision-makers offered by social media.
In a prestige industry like lobbying, awards reflect the respect of a firm’s peers and the clients with which it interacts. When hiring lobbyists, check to see if the firm that you are considering hiring has won any industry awards. Better Business Bureau accreditation also helps ensure that you’re doing business with a reputable company and not a fly-by-night operation without any standards and values.
Price is a consideration for any service, including lobbying. When hiring lobbyists, it’s important to go over what services you’re purchasing and what you can expect from the firm. Many lobbyists have several service packages and levels, allowing clients to purchase what they need and avoid paying for services that don’t apply to their situation. The firm you choose should be upfront with its pricing structure and about what you can expect. If a firm’s prices seem out of your range, consider partnering with other businesses in your industry to pool resources to hire the DC lobbyists that you need.
Your work does not end with hiring a lobbyist. You need to regularly communicate with your lobbyist to inform them of your concerns and developments on your end that may impact their work. The lobbying game is all about relationships, and no relationship is as important as the lobbyist-client relationship.
Lobbyit makes government accessible for regular people, providing business owners and advocates with the opportunity to make their voices heard in Washington, D.C. Providing affordable and transparent lobbying services, Lobbyit’s Washington lobbyists has helped cities, trade organizations, and businesses increase their visibility and influence in our nation’s capital and in state capitals.