Throughout any given year, I get asked several questions that seem to come up repeatedly. People want to know more about what I do, how I do it, or why companies need a lobbyist? Underlying some of the questions is a fundamental misunderstanding, or just a lack of knowledge, about what lobbying is and why some companies participate in it. There can be some misconceptions out there. I’ll try to break it down a little bit.
What Does a Lobbyist Do?
First, lobbyists educate decision-makers to bring forward facts or things about a situation that the decision-maker may or may not know, but need to know to make the best decision. That education effort takes place against the backdrop of trying to help a company and the government get to a good government solution. We’re always trying to get to a good government solution. We want to help the government get to the best solution by using our product, service, or solution to solve the government need.
Second, lobbyists can help interpret the environment for you. At the most basic level, lobbyists track the budgeting and funding landscape that precedes the acquisition and contracting phase; each can be murky and challenging to see through. Lobbyists are generally able to discern white noise from meaningful signals. White noise is the steady churn of daily reporting to sell news content (website, TV, cable channel, blog, etc.). White noise is that constant hum of exciting but often irrelevant information. When a lobbyist tunes into your specific issue, they can help you focus on things that matter.A good lobbyist will help you execute a logical plan to achieve your objective that more naturally aligns with the complex processes in perpetual motion. Click To Tweet
Why Hire a Lobbyist
Two primary reasons. First and quite simply, you don’t have the time to devote to the continual monitoring of events required of effective lobbying. Most executives are focused on doing business, making their product, or helping provide their service or solution. Every day, personnel or customer service challenges require the same bandwidth that executives don’t have enough of. Understanding the processes unfolding throughout the government sales process takes time. Remember, it’s a multi-step process. It takes several years. There’s budgeting, funding, acquisition, and then contracting. They all unfold over time, and those are things that require an integrated understanding of the overlay of the three rings of influence: industry, agency, and Congress.
Second, you don’t have the breadth of experience. If you have not worked in at least two of the rings of influence during your career, you will struggle to fill the gaps in your knowledge to excel in all three rings. Having a guide who can shepherd you through the process makes good business sense.
Can They Advocate for Me?
Yes, and they do! Many companies are participating in lobbying without really knowing that they are. Companies may not have an individual lobbyist representing them, but your participation in associations often includes the benefit of advocacy that comes with your membership. Somebody in that association, or maybe many people in that association, are advocating for things that you generally support, even if they are not specific to your business offering. This type of lobbying is coalition lobbying, where general issue lobbying serves many interests. Think of tax or trade policies, for example. If you were to pull a thread on nearly every aspect of your life, someone represents you at the federal level.
Can a Lobbyist Help Me Change a Policy?
Yes, it is pretty standard for policies across government to conflict. The federal government is vast, and well-meaning decision-makers often operate with imperfect information. If you look at tax policy and trade policy, in particular, they can become very complicated. There are so many workarounds and elements within law and policy that it’s easy for some details to get cross-wired. But sometimes, those cross-wired details can inhibit your sales.
You may be the only one who understands that a negative policy impact is happening. One of my clients was one of two providers of a specific capability in the entire United States. There was a policy that conflicted and hurt business and government outcomes. This client came forward with facts and favorably influenced a complex policy. Had they not come forward, they would have lived with a condition for years. Because they participated in the process, they could shape an outcome, help the government get to a better place, and help their company get to a better place.
How To Pick the Right Lobbyist
Any lobbyists should convey some breadth of expertise from decades of experience. You don’t come out of one job and go into a role as an influential lobbyist. Here are simple questions to ask about their background. Have they worked in the industry? Have they worked in an agency? Have they worked in Congress? Are they conversant? Do they have relationships? Do they understand processes? You can ask questions of any lobbyists that you might interview to assess their range of experience. What is the depth?
Things You Didn’t Know About Lobbyists
Most people don’t recognize the degree of transparency the law requires of lobbyists. All professional lobbyists submit to a regulated reporting protocol. Sometimes, you see companies that lobby because they speak with senior officials or speak to Congress, but they’re not reporting that activity. That’s called shadow lobbying. That is something that is actually against the law. And there are good reasons for this. Over hundreds of years now in the United States, some bad actors occasionally tried to gain favor or an unfair advantage. Lobbying reporting offers a degree of transparency on a process that can be murky because the interactions are so difficult to follow. But many people don’t realize that such a reporting requirement exists. I subscribe to the reporting protocol. I think it’s essential that we have some process that allows anyone to understand that influence is taking place. I believe, and I only participate in, influence activities that help a qualified client help the government get to a good government solution. Professional lobbying, done correctly, can help your company and your government customer.
Gene Moran will guide you to achieve the federal funding you need. Want to learn more? Schedule a call with Gene.
If you would like to purchase a copy of Gene’s Amazon bestselling book and understand the three strategic rings of the federal funding and policy circus, click here: Pitching the Big Top: How to Master the 3-Ring Circus of Federal Sales