Having served in both the legislative and executive branches of government, I am often asked what makes a lobbyist effective. Here’s what I’ve learned…
Trust is Everything
Far and away, the most important quality is trustworthiness. Trust is the currency in which those in government trade. Break trust and you – and those you represent – most likely will not get another chance to be heard.
In addition to trust (and depending on the seat I occupied), I looked to lobbyists for different qualities.
In the legislature, lobbyists that provide both subject matter expertise and institutional knowledge add the most value. Arizona has a part-time legislature. On any given year, members are in session for four or five months. The part-time nature of the legislature coupled with term limits enacted back in 2000 leaves little opportunity for lawmakers to build expertise or historical knowledge of the myriad issues they face. Legislative staff, along with lobbyists, helps supplement this knowledge.
The most effective lobbyists know their issues, know who support and oppose their positions and know how to articulate the arguments both for and against them. They also know the history surrounding their issues. Has this particular solution been tried before? Why or why not? What were the previous attempts to solve this problem? Why didn’t it work and why will this one succeed? In lawmaking, like medicine, the first rule ought to be, “first do no harm.” Repeating the mistakes of the past violates this rule.
Provide a Remedy, not a Sales Pitch
The challenge facing agency leadership is quite different. Institutional knowledge of both policy and operations reside within agencies through their staff. Successful leadership requires fostering a culture of continuous improvement. Leaders must simultaneously keep current on the latest developments while guarding against group think. Lobbyists and their clients can play an important role here. But to be effective, they must understand the agency’s core “business,” its operations and the outcomes that leadership is trying to drive.
Few things are more frustrating for an agency director than to take meetings with a potential vendor who is unable to articulate how his products or services can help drive the outcomes that matter most to leadership. If this value proposition is not clearly communicated before the meeting concludes, you probably won’t get a second chance to make your case. However, if you clearly demonstrate how you can help leadership innovate and drive outcomes, you’re highly likely to become a long-term partner.
If you need assistance with advocacy at the legislature or developing a winning sales strategy with state agencies, we can help. With more than 30 years in state and federal experience, Traversant Group has the knowledge and expertise that leaders throughout Arizona trust. Send us a message. We will guide you through every step.