Working with someone who provides government relations consulting services could be one of the most critical decisions you make as you interact with the government. A consultant or consulting firm can be your ally and guide you through a maze of relationships, rules and regulations. Or, they could end up as your worst enemy if they fail to effectively prepare you and/or negatively impact your reputation. Here are some areas of government relations services and public affairs consulting firms to consider as you look to hire a true ally instead of an enemy.
First, what type of lobbyist do you need? While lobbyists typically advertise as generalists when it comes to anything that involves state and local governments, 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 legislature meetings with elected officials and focus on influencing the passage or defeat of laws.
Procurement lobbyists spend their time with the executive branch looking to create public private partnerships and influence the purchase of goods and services. Their goal is to help clients build relationships and win contracts. They also monitor government trends that affect spending and purchasing.
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.
Second, once you figure out what kind of lobbyist you need, you will need to find one. Referrals from colleagues in your field is a fantastic way to source some options. However, if you are new to the state or local market, or your colleagues aren’t that helpful, don’t worry! Here are some avenues to explore:
A government relations agency like MultiState can help you find a reputable firm.
With a couple of candidates identified, it’s time 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 the state or local 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 goods 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 or be right for you. The same thing goes for asking about the legislative process. Ask about legislative leadership, political trends, and bipartisan or controversial issues.
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 an RFP response or negotiating a contract? If their answer does not make sense or the approach lacks good details, this can be a sign they are not full service or knowledgeable enough and you need to move on.
Look for conflicts. The good news is that most lobbyists must be registered. So, take a look at who else the consulting 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.
Finding and hiring the right lobbyist for your business can take time, but it’s important to follow the steps outlined here to make the right choice. If you do, you’ll be sure to end up with an ally who can help you reach your goals. And that’s priceless.