Many CEOs, CFOs, investors and executives do not realize the impact federal, state and local government have on their organization, or the importance of maintaining a comprehensive government affairs strategy as part of their annual business planning process.
As a lobbyist, I act as a professional guide for my clients to a variety of federal, state and local elected officials. When businesses choose to interface with the government, many consider hiring a lobbying professional who can help develop a government affairs plan — just as you would hire an accountant for an Internal Revenue Service audit or a lawyer for a court case.
If you choose to start the process on your own, it is imperative that you determine what you want to accomplish as a business. Do you want to become an eligible vendor with a specific government agency? Are you looking to expand your business or are you seeking public incentives to help you with hiring new employees or training your workforce?
Maybe you just want government “not” to do something that may negatively impact your day-to-day operations. You must identify what it is that you want and be clear about it when meeting with agents of government.
Here are some tips for lobbying the government:
Identify your targets
First, make a list of legislators who could aid in your effort. Start by looking at the local officials who represent you, your business and your business’ employees geographically. They have the greatest reason for supporting your requests. They want to see your business succeed and hire more of their constituents as you grow, so they should be your Tier 1 targets.
Your Tier 2 targets should include legislators who are on the committees that have oversight of your issues, legislators who are in leadership positions and who may have a little more political gravity than most, and legislators who have expressed a public interest in your activities.
These champions will help augment your efforts with letters of support, calls into agencies to help arrange meetings, and inquiries to secretaries and agency directors when you are not getting the answers you want from government.
Arrange a meeting
Once you have a meeting with a legislator, arrive prepared and practiced. Usually, meetings only last between 10 and 20 minutes, so make sure you and your group are aware of the issues you need to cover and stick to them. Know your facts.
However, if a legislator or their staff asks a question for which you do not have the answer, don’t make something up on the fly. Take note of it and get back to them. And, if a legislator challenges you on something, answer the question honestly, but not argumentatively.
Know who you are meeting with, their goals and where they stand on the issues before your meeting.
For example, not all legislators support drilling for Marcellus Shale gas and if you are a driller walking into their office, you may be in for a hard time. Make sure your requests are realistic for each of your visits and always remain professional.
Lobbying is a contact sport. The more you contact a legislator and develop a rapport with them, the more inclined they will be to help. Realize that in doing this you are not working alone.
At the end of the day, the lobbying industry acts as a forum for conflict resolution among divergent interests. Whether you decided to go it alone, or hire a firm, know that an honest, succinct, positive and respectful approach will be effective. And remember that a successful lobbying effort takes time, resources and preparation.
Joe Kuklis is a political lobbyist and head of Duane Morris Government Strategies. He has built a successful career lobbying for organizations and businesses of all sizes and has helped raise $500 million for clients ranging from Fortune 500 corporations to one-person startups. His book, “The Robin Hood of D.C.,” is an insider’s guide to the government marketplace for small, mid-sized and large businesses. Visit www.robinhoodofdc.com for more information.