Posts Tagged ‘Lobbyist Retention and Management’

Odds Are You Are Not Doing This

May 13, 2014

By Josh Fisher, Esq., Manager of State Issues

blog-silhouette-of-peopleEarlier this year, the Public Affairs Council (PAC) released its 2013 State Government Relations Benchmarking Report, which is filled with great information on the corporate and association state government relations (SGR) practices. In particular, the PAC report found that “SGR work is usually broad in scope and in territory covered, so those surveyed rely heavily upon external relationships and services for the fullest coverage and tracking of their particular public policy concerns.”

Examples of these external services include contract lobbyists and consultants. We are consultants at Stateside and much of our work involves helping clients hire and manage lobbyists. During the course of the year we provide dozens of qualified lobbyist referrals to our clients. Consequently, we know the importance of consultants and lobbyists to SGR professionals.

With that in mind, what really stood out in the report was the finding that about half of corporate and nearly three-quarters of association respondents have NO formal process for evaluating their contract lobbyists and consultants.

Let me cite some more figures to draw out why this is a surprising number. The PAC report found that for its corporate members the average SGR operating budget allocated 22% of its resources for contract lobbyists and 5% on consultants and vendors. Additionally, the ratio of contract lobbyists/consultants to total SGR staff is typically 2:1 according to the PAC report. Association respondents, on average, allocated 19% of their SGR operating budget to contract lobbyists and 9% on consultants and vendors. For associations, the typical staffing ratio is 1.8:1. These numbers demonstrate lobbyists and consultants outnumber your SGR staff nearly 2 to 1 and account for about a quarter of your budget. And there is no formal evaluation?

It is clear that a large portion of resources are devoted to contract lobbyists and consultants. And yet the report tells us that 54% of surveyed corporations and, even more striking, 73% of associations do not have a formal evaluation process. Both corporations and associations cited results as one of the top evaluation criteria for their contract lobbyists and consultants. It seems most people just want to know if the bill passed or failed. Bottom lines are impossible to avoid, but one day your bottom line may be in danger if you cannot justify the expense of a lobbyist or consultant you hired. To judge performance solely on outcome misses the mark.

In previous blog posts we have examined the importance of audits and the reasons you should use them. Let these numbers be a not-so-subtle reminder of the importance of being able to support your decision to hire a contract lobbyist or consultant beyond saying the bill passed. While the time for evaluations and audits is typically after sessions have ended and budgeting for the next year begins, now is a great time to gather the information you need as part of the audit process. Let’s be honest, how much of the whirlwind session will you remember come September?

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Josh Fisher is Manager of State Issues. His work at Stateside Associates has given him an intimate knowledge of the legislative process in all 50 states. He works with clients on a wide range of state and local government affairs issues and was most recently Manager of the Legislative Information Division at Stateside Associates.

Say Goodbye to Your Lobbyist – The Right Way

August 20, 2012

By Constance Campanella, President and CEO

If you decide to part ways with your contract lobbyist, there are some things you should do to make the change most positive for all concerned.

My focus here is not on replacing lobbyists who are “not working out,” but on the decision not to continue to have a lobbyist in a state. The reasons you make that decision are myriad. For example, if your lobbyist was focused on supporting your manufacturing facility in a state and you sold that facility–well, then–the lobbyist goes too. If you passed the bill you hired the lobbyist to pass–two years ago–you may decide it is OK to go unrepresented in that state. Another possibility is that your budget was slashed to the bone and you had to make painful decisions. As I said, there are plenty of possibilities.

So, you made the decision to end the relationship. I expect you know how to make that phone call and say good things, but have you thought about a thorough exit interview? Candidly, I had not, but Ron Barnes, Vice President of State Government Relations for the Direct Marketing Association and a Stateside client, told me recently that he does exit interviews with lobbyists and I thought that was a fantastic idea and wanted to share. Hence this blog.

Here are my recommended questions for an exit interview. What do you have to add to this list? Leave a comment in the field below or email your suggestions to stateside@stateside.com.

  • What do you know now that you wished you had known when we started working together?
  • Did I give you the tools you needed (Information, Messages, Grassroots/Grasstops)?
  • How well did we (client) handle administrative responsibilities, i.e. payments, lobbyist registration?
  • Was our level of campaign involvement high enough, too low or just right?
  • If situations change, would you be willing to work for us again?
  • Do you foresee any land mines out there for my company/association in the coming year?
  • In what areas do you think you could improve?
  • What would you recommend I do to improve as a client?

The View From Inside: A Legislative Staffer’s Perspective on Lobbying

December 1, 2011

By Stateside Associates

The 2012 legislative session is gearing up to be a busy one, particularly when it comes to fiscal issues. Federal stimulus dollars are drying up, revenue is down, and most states are increasingly strapped for cash. In an election year when these factors are sure to be politically polarizing, having access to the right lawmakers and staff can mean a world of difference and provide a key competitive advantage. During my time in the Florida State House I witnessed certain practices that are determinative of the success or failure of an advocate’s legislative agenda.

For three years, I served as a legislative aide to a Florida State Representative. There were many days that, despite all planning and preparation, I observed the familiar and controlled chaos of the legislative session. Some lobbyists came and executed with laser-like precision. They excelled at what they did, and were known throughout the capitol for their ability to get things done. On the other hand, I also saw lobbyists and advocates that were ill-prepared or who had misjudged the local political environment. More often than not their lack of preparation committed them and their issues to legislative failure. On a daily basis, our office would be bombarded with government relations professionals that advocated on behalf of numerous and varied issues. I learned first-hand that in order to pursue a successful legislative agenda, there are four things most worth remembering: time, relationships, local voice and coalition mobilization.

Time

One of the first realizations I had in the State House was that there are hundreds of issues that each have their own nuances. This gives little time for an elected official to consider a given amendment or bill. From day one to day sixty of the respective session, our office was inundated with requests for meetings. My advice for lobbyists and issue managers is to remember that your cause is one of many. Get in, make the case for your issues and get out. Many lobbyists operated like car salespeople; it was clear they believed that the longer they talked, the more likely they were to make the sale. The opposite held true more often than not. The Representative I worked for always appreciated when a lobbyist could convey his point in less than 10 minutes and kept talking points and handouts to no more than one page. Keep it brief and to the point.

Relationships

The way to keep your bill high on someone’s priority list without consuming valuable time on his or her agenda is to follow up with frequent reminders and updates. In many instances, members have one staffer to handle an entire legislative office. Checking in with that staff member can help more than many realize. Spend your time getting to know the staff before you meet with the lawmaker.

It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating – make sure you and your bill sponsor are on the same page and working together. Committee chairmen take notice when lobbyists advocate for issues under their committee’s jurisdiction, however it is just as important that the chairmen see the bill sponsor doing his/her part too.

While party leaders and rank and file members are important, in each state legislature there is also a group of people that both aides and lobbyists tend to forget—the lifelong staffers. These staffers often eclipse their bosses in issue knowledge and tenure in the state house. Professional committee and caucus staffs also learn the complex and often archaic rules of a chamber. It is easy for newly elected members to misinterpret or misunderstand these rules and be ineffective. Knowledge of how to stall a vote, add a last minute amendment, tally votes, or how to pass legislation is not only priceless but can be the difference between watching the Governor sign a bill into a law and watching a bill hit the round-file.

Local Face and Voice

If possible, give your cause a face and a voice. Whether it is the Speaker of the House, or a newly elected freshman, each member has a constituency that he or she represents. Successful lobbyists know how to utilize the constituents of the members they target and they often bring them in for issue advocacy days with their lawmakers. During the 2009 legislative session, one of our constituents came to us with a very emotional and important issue. Their daughter had been killed in a tragic accident because she was not wearing a helmet while at a horseback riding lesson. Despite having a very equestrian-friendly district and having the U.S. Polo Grounds in our boundaries, we were able to pass a bill with unanimous support to mandate any individual 13 years of age and younger wear a helmet while riding. Throughout the process the family proved to be valuable allies in testifying at hearings and ultimately convincing the Governor to sign the bill. Personalizing a cause and rallying constituent support will always help improve your chances at being successful.

Coalition Mobilization

If you can’t get a local constituent to push an issue, as we did, find strength in the numbers behind a coalition. During the 2011 Florida legislative session, I witnessed a bill that was top priority for the Governor pass the House but get voted down in the Senate because by the time it reached the second chamber there was a groundswell of opposition to the bill. This was primarily thanks to one of the lobbyists that took the time to bring in hundreds of students and teachers to testify against it. The lobbyist went above and beyond in coordinating with committee staff to make sure that each person had one minute of speaking time and was even able to include testimony from constituents throughout the state, making the testimony relevant for every member of the Senate.

While every state has a unique legislative process, most successful advocacy techniques are transferable. In the face of the demanding 2012 legislative sessions, lobbyists everywhere will need to maintain a competitive edge. I recommend maximizing your time, working those relationships and mobilizing a coalition in support of your issues in order to come out ahead in your next lobbying effort.