Much attention has been paid to Google hiring 12 lobbying firms to confront a Federal Trade Commission probe, but such excessive lobbyist spending seems to be rare in Washington these days. As Congress slows to a crawl on a host of important issues to Americans, a number of organisations have decided to remove their voice from Washington by eliminating their paid lobbyist. But what about the issues which drove so many to spend so much on hired guns in the first place? So you fired your lobbyist….what’s next?
There are many reasons for eliminating a lobbyist. Accomack County in Virginia fired their lobbyist in part because many county officials believed it wasn’t a good use of taxpayer dollars. Cost is difficult to justify to taxpayers and often difficult for small businesses to justify. Many small businesses eliminate lobbyists because they were promised a return on investment that they never ended up receiving. These types of lobbying contracts lasted longer during the height of earmarks but in the current climate of inactivity it is hard for a lobbyist to convince a fiscally cautious small business to continue to rely on some eventual return on investment. Nonprofits have managed to eliminate their lobbyists and convince themselves that when fundraising gets better then they will eventually have the means to go after whatever federal funding they originally sought. And of course, a portion of all lobbying firings are simply the result of a client disliking their lobbyist or a lobbyist disliking the client. Promises are often made prior to a lobbying contract which end up not being fulfilled entirely to one party’s liking and result in an early termination of the contract.
The question becomes what should all of these entities, previously so influential, now do that they are lacking their hired gun?
Advocacy strategy requires a well-thought out issue, a team to work to advance the issue and some form of direct lobbying to elected officials. With or without a lobbyist, an organisation controls the ability to create this strategy on their own and this is what must occur once a lobbyist is no more.
Understand the current legislative climate so you can figure out what your issue needs to look like, and the goals you have to set in order to advance your issue. Look around at your competition. What successful issue does a competing business have in congress?
Build a team internally with a serious commitment and serious responsibility to your issue set. Build a team externally with coalitions, trade groups and others who share your legislative agenda. That method is a free to low-cost way to build an army for your issue.
Set time to lobby and know what you are going to say in those lobbying meetings that is convincing and respective of the congressional reality. For example, you know earmarks are nearly dead, don’t ask for them. Take basic actions such as inviting your Congressman or Senator to visit your office in their district.
These actions set you up to move your issue regardless of a lobbyist but also put you in a position that if you eventually choose to hire another lobbyist their work will only be value-added.
Don’t leave your lobbying agenda twisting in the wind simply because you no longer have a lobbyist. No organisation would stop promoting themselves due to the termination of a public relations consultant, or have their executives cease working if a management consultant is fired. Similarly, advocacy can’t just be placed on the back shelf. Get to work and build an effective advocacy strategy.
Maury Litwack is an advocacy commentator and founder of the Capitol Plan, home of the Advocacy Strategy Guidance – http://www.capitolplan.com/asg
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