Lobbyists are a unique breed. Having been one for over a decade, the good ones possess a blend of salesmanship, business savvy, legal knowledge, and political awareness. But, with no stated professional standards that govern them (like doctors or lawyers have), you need to be selective about who you choose to represent you.
Three Main Types of Lobbyists
While lobbyists typically advertise as generalists when it comes to anything that involves the government, there are a few distinctions that you should keep in mind. At a high-level, there are three main types of lobbyists: legislative, procurement and land-use.
- The most common type of lobbyist is a legislative lobbyist. These lobbyists spend an enormous amount of time at the legislature meeting with legislators and focus on influencing the passage or defeat of laws.
- Procurement lobbyists spend their time with the executive branch looking to influence the purchase of goods and services. Their goal is to help their clients build relationships and win contracts. They also monitor government trends that affect spending and purchasing (see my blog on the State’s FY2016 IT Modernization Budget or the 5 Trends Shaping the Arizona Market in 2015).
- Finally, land-use lobbyists are experts in the complex process known as zoning. If you are a business that wants to develop undeveloped land or expand existing structures, a land-use lobbyist helps you navigate the land use approval process.
Tips for Selecting a Lobbyist
Once you figure out what kind of lobbyist you need, you will need to interview one to determine if he or she is a good fit. Below are some general tips on what to do before and during the interview:
- Do your brand research. Every lobbyist has a brand. One of the first things you want to do is to ask someone you know or trust in government about the reputation of your lobbyist. Ask the official: “Would you gladly accept a meeting with this lobbyist?” When you have a suitable answer, pick one that is a good reflection of your company.
- Request references. Isn’t it important to know how your lobbyist has performed for other clients? Ask for at least two references. And, if you don’t want a cherry-picked reference, take a look at the jurisdiction’s lobbyist registration and ask to contact one of the companies on the list.
- Ask questions about your goals. If you are a business looking to sell to the government, ask your lobbyist about the procurement process, any RFPs in the pipeline, current contracts, key decision makers that can influence the purchase of your good or services, important meetings, and spending trends. If the lobbyist looks like a deer in headlights or avoids answering, they may not understand your goals.
- Then, ask the tough questions. What are the strategies if a solicitation excludes you from competing? What steps do you take if the City Council appears to be questioning your contract award? What is the lobbyist’s strategy for dealing with your competitors’ lobbyists? What do you do if a government official is threatening to cancel your license? What experience do you have writing a RFP response or negotiating a contract? If their answer does not make sense or the approach lacks good details, move on.
- Look for conflicts. The good news is that most lobbyists must be registered. So, take a look at who else the firm represents, and determine whether you think that he or she can fairly represent you. If the lobbyist is not registered, ask for a client list.