Although lobbyists can open doors for you, a good lobbyist will do alot more than that. Lobbyists can offer a whole range of services, including:
- Set Goals
- You really should already know what your goals are before you talk to any lobbyists. But lobbyists can help translate your goals (which may be business-oriented or end-results-oriented) into goals that make sense in the context of the government.
- Strategy, Timing, & Focus
- Help you develop a strategy and focus your efforts where they’ll be most successful at the proper time.
- Educate you on government processes, regulations, & potential traps (like numerous conflict-of-interest laws).
- Represent you and your interests to the government, so you don’t have to be there in person doing it yourself most of the time.
- Help you develop relationships with people in government that can help you achieve your goals.
- Find and support “champions” within the government who are willing to push for your objectives from within.
- Advertise you and/or your project in appropriate places and appropriate ways. For example, if you’re trying to sell a widget to the DoD, a lobbying firm with marketing focus might get articles published about your technology in magazines that DoD project managers read.
- Identify potential customers within the many, many agencies, organizations, and offices in the government.
- Support your legal and political interests in new laws considered and enacted by Congress.
- Note that lobbyists do alot of work writing actual legislation. They often propose text for new laws and give it to Congressional staffers (who are more than happy to have someone else do the work for them). So a good lobbyist can help get laws written with specific language that meets your objectives.
- Seek Congressional funding for specific projects or interests.
- Navigate the processes, politics, and regulations to successfully deliver a project after you’ve succeeded in getting it.
In my experience, the 3 most important of these are (in order):
- Strategy, Timing and Focus
Strategy, Timing, and Focus: If a lobbyist doesn’t specifically mention this in your talks with them, you might want to talk to another lobbyist. No matter how many contacts a lobbying firm has, without the proper strategy, and execution at the right time, it won’t be effective.
Representation: Simply put, the lobbyists are in the Capitol, talking with lawmakers, their staff, civil servants, and everyone else involved in the process, day in and day out. Everyone working in the Capitol has so much work to do and so many people talking with them all the time that, even if your issue is very important to someone, it probably won’t get enough attention without someone there to remind them about it. A good lobbyist should do that for you.
Relationships: This is where contacts come in. I didn’t put it 1st or 2nd because, if you have a good lobbyist, they know enough people that, even if they don’t know the specific people you really need to talk to, they can get introduced to them through someone else they know. Often all it takes to get a meeting with a lawmaker who hasn’t returned your calls is a call from another lawmaker mentioning your name. The six degrees of separation are at work here, except it’s usually more like 2 or 3 degrees of separation – it’s a pretty tight club.
Note that although your lobbyists don’t have to know the exact people you need to talk to for them to be effective, they do need to know alot of people. So the size of their contact pool is more important than the specific people in the pool. Quality of contacts is the next most important, so the lobbyist who goes on hunting trips a few times a year with the Chair of the Appropriations Committee is probably going to be able to help you get more done faster than the lobbyist who plays poker twice a week with a first-term lawmaker – seniority matters (alot).