Five Steps to Hiring the Right Lobbyist
Hiring the right lobbyist has the potential to influence not only your business but the future of your industry. On the other hand, hiring the wrong lobbyist will deplete your resources with no results, which makes the strategy of hiring a government relations specialist so critical. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to government relations, which is why it is crucial to do your research to reap the full benefits of a strategic advocacy partner.
As with any hiring process, mistakes are expensive. The entire process consumes more time and money if not done right the first time. Embrace the following steps, and your lobbying efforts will go more smoothly. You’ll have the ability to compete with large, multinational businesses while operating within your time and budget constraints.
Step One: Identify your needs
Before you even think about looking for a lobbyist, the first step is to figure out precisely what you need. Examine where you are currently, your goals for the future, and the obstacles that stand in your way. Don’t get too bogged down in legal and legislative specifics; your lobbyist will guide you through this process. To get started ask yourself the following questions:
What would you like to accomplish? What do you need the lobbyist to do for you and your organization?
- Monitor legislation
- Open new markets
- Expand product market share
- Secure funding
- Strategic communications
- Grassroots organization
- Change/pass legislation
- Kill/oppose legislation
Step Two: Set your budget and timeline
As you establish your budget, keep in mind the industry average for lobbying services. In most cases, lobbyists charge clients a monthly retainer; on a federal level, the monthly average is $25,000.00, while the state-level average is about $5,000.00. These amounts are general figures that fluctuate based on your goals and the strategy necessary to support them.
Budgeting for lobbying services can seem daunting and can often get overlooked when prioritizing an organization’s financials. Rest assured; if you follow our process, the investment will be well worth it. To mitigate risk, seek out other like-minded industry comrades to shoulder your financial burden. By connecting with other organizations and associations that share the benefit of altering legislation, you can cut your expenses in half.
Step Three: Start searching
The three basic requirements of hiring a lobbyist are industry expertise, conflicts of interest, and specialization. Lobbyists have specialties, which comes from years of advocacy in a specific vertical. What does this mean? It means the lobbyist has a deep understanding of how to navigate the process, the policy, and the players. Relationships are the cornerstone of successful influence in the world of government affairs, which is why a rich history of experience is critical to your success.
Conflicts of interest are typically disclosed by the lobbyist during your first interview. If he/she does not bring it up, make sure to ask. You wouldn’t want to be represented by someone simultaneously representing a competitor with goals that conflict with yours. Other aspects to consider in hiring a lobbyist are passion and cultural fit. You’ll want to find someone genuinely interested in your cause because the more they care, the more dedicated they are in representing you at the Capitol. And although this individual is not a member of your full-time staff, by working with you, they represent your organization and should meet the same ethical standards you have of any full-time employee.
The four routes you can take when finding a lobbyist:
Retaen connects you with the most suitable Government Affairs consultants for your specific focus. Once you’re paired with your dedicated lobbyist, Retaen makes it easy to track and report on progress toward clear goals. The platform also leverages Artificial Intelligence to help craft and shepherd meaningful legislation. With smart data, transparency and accountability at the forefront, you’ll be well-informed at every stage.
Referrals can either be helpful and easy, or they can add more work and research for you. Start by asking friends or industry colleagues for referrals. Before scheduling a time to chat, make sure the lobbyist has the skill set and industry expertise you need. Most often, this information is available on their website with a simple Google search. If the skill set matches your requirements, schedule an interview to ensure the relationship will work and that conflicts of interest are not an issue.
3. Traditional Sourcing Firm
Traditional sourcing firms provide a full spectrum of government relations services. Finding a lobbyist is typically a complimentary service for clients with a hefty referral fee for lobbyists. Additional services like bill tracking, compliance management and policy influence are available at an additional charge.
4. Internet Search
Last, a simple Google search will get you started on finding a lobbyist in your state. This will require a considerable amount of effort on your part to research the best lobbyist for your organization. However, if time and manpower are not an issue, start searching. A good place to start is the lobbying section of your state’s Secretary of State website.
Step Four: Interviews
Once you’ve narrowed your list down to a few lobbyists that look promising, it’s time to connect for an interview. Here are some sample questions to get you prepared for your interviews:
- What is the fee structure?
- What is your availability?
- What is your timeline?
- Do any of your current clients pose a conflict of interest?
- Could you provide an example of a similar challenge you successfully managed for a client?
- Could you provide a project proposal with the approach to accomplishing our goals?
Step Five: Managing deliverables
Brace yourself because government is not known for its efficiency, and if you’ve ever been to the DMV you know this firsthand. The legislative process is a long and winding road, patience and a strong strategy are the tools necessary to make lasting and effective change. Stick to the timeline and be sure to communicate with your lobbyist weekly to monitor progress. Get involved, and be an active participant in the process.
As much as we’d hope everything goes according to plan; sometimes that is just not the case. Here are some red flags as you continually evaluate the effectiveness of the lobbyist you’ve hired:
- Gradual decline in interest
- Lack of communication or follow-through on communicating next steps
- Overconfidence in perceived progress, with little to no results
- Long-winded excuses
This step-by-step guide serves as a starting point to navigate the world of government relations. As with any successful process, iterate and tailor as you go to meet the evolving needs of your organization. For more guidance or to unlock the reach, expertise and effectiveness of Retaen, schedule a meeting with us here or email Anna Beauregard at Anna@retaen.com.
Katie McDonald is the chief operating officer of Echo Ridge, the parent company of Retaen. Prior to her time with Echo Ridge, Katie played an integral role in running one of the largest government relations operations in Silicon Valley. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado.