Oh Lobbyist, Where Art Thou?

By Constance Campanella, President and CEO

I recently attended a seminar in which a lobbyist broker described in great detail the arduous task of identifying and retaining state and local lobbyists. At first, the recommended steps made sense, but when the suggestion was made to conduct a “Google” test (for nasty news stories) following the plane trip for the in-person interview in the lobbyist’s office – I knew something was wrong.

In-person interviews? I’ve recommended scores of lobbyists In 22 years and I think I’ve had the luxury of such a long, slow glide path approximately 5 times.

The broker also recommended following up the in person meeting by checking references and ethics reports. Again, I thought to myself, that’s what you do BEFORE you even pick up the phone to talk to the lobbyist candidate. No one has the time or budget to traipse around interviewing people in person whose disqualifications would be readily apparent online or on the phone.

So, I asked myself. Why would the recommended steps be out of sequence and why would they be presented as if they took weeks to complete expertly?

Well, at the risk of being cynical, I think there may have been a teensy bit of an extra motive here. By making the process of finding and retaining lobbyists sound long, arduous, twisty turny and a combination of quantum physics and ballet, perhaps the message being sent was, “Hire Us to Do it for You!”

Well, ok, everybody needs to make a buck. But, if you distort the process for your purposes, your client loses out. Even if a process is outsourced, the client should still know how to do it well so they can validate the decisions. And, if the CLIENT understands how to do it correctly, the CLIENT can make the right hiring decision and the CLIENT can feel confident about same.

Hiring a lobbyist is one of the most important decisions anyone in our profession makes. It does not take weeks and it does not require in-person interviews. And, there’s no secret handshake. Yes, it does require research, interviews, checking references (including ones not provided to you) and common sense.

It is not easy, but if you are going to hire anyone to help you with this – including us – please come prepared to learn.

And, don’t buy any airplane tickets just yet.

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