You must understand congressional initiatives and realities on the Hill. To do that, you should always stay current with what is going on in the legislature and with legislators you believe are important to your cause. This is another instance where good, solid, working relationships with congressional staffers can prove invaluable. And once you know the lay of the congressional land, you can accurately and precisely frame and position your program to fill needs or support shared interests.
Your Calling Card
For-hire lobbyists will generally represent several organizations, and be working to advance several different agendas. You may not be their first priority. That is a problem. To mitigate that, you must make sure to maintain a strong association, a strong identity through your lobbyist. You want congresspeople and staffers to see your lobbyist and think of your organization first. You do not want them to look at your advocate and think, “Well, I wonder who he’s representing today ...” But how do you avoid that?
First, it is not unreasonable for a client to demand exclusivity from their lobbyist for representation within the transportation industry. This helps eliminate any perceived conflicts of interest with other clients the lobbyist may serve. You should never feel that your agency’s value to your lobbyist is secondary to any of the lobbyist’s other clients.
Next, as mentioned previously, establish an honest, trusting relationship with your lobbyist. To advance that relationship, have one high-level person from your organization assigned to your lobbyist. Dedicate that high-level person’s time to the lobbyist and his or her needs. Provide that person with everything needed to help the lobbyist make your case. Ensure the senior-level executive you choose can communicate your organization’s vision dynamically and compellingly. Make sure he or she can “sell” your project to the lobbyist. This tells the lobbyist that your organization is investing a lot of time and energy into the process and that you value his or her services. And that is exactly what you want your lobbyist to feel — the more that your lobbyist invests emotionally in your agenda, the better and more sincerely he or she will advocate on your behalf.
Take the Lead Time
Too many things devolve to the “last minute” in this world; working with your lobbyist should not be one of them. By the nature of our system, there are periods of dormancy and times when the process is insanely frenzied. During appropriations times, for example, “crisis mode” is routine. As common sense dictates, that would be the worst time to start working with your advocate. So be proactive. Work with your advocate way before important deadlines loom on the horizon so that he or she can be well prepared when crunch time arrives. Be careful, though. What you think may be enough lead time to accomplish something may not be enough time for your advocate. Work with him or her. Establish realistic time frames and get a jump on the process.
Preach the Gospel of Your Project
True believers are passionate. You want to make your advocate a true believer. Instill in your lobbyist a sense of respect and passion for your program. Communicate the cultural values of your organization and its mission so that your lobbyist wants to effectively represent your organization’s entire program. Give him or her compelling specifics so your advocate can answer the tough questions with fervor and without hesitation or referral. Provide your lobbyist with unhindered access to key people — both management and technical staff. By the same token, choose an advocate who displays a willingness to learn more than the basics about your program and organization. Why is this so important? Consider what advocates do when they are not visiting your organization.
An integral part of a lobbyist’s job is to know the specifics, in detail, about legislation. Lobbyists constantly monitor regulations and changes in legislation. If an advocate believes in your program, she or he will come to you with opportunities that you might never have known about or considered. For example, in the new SAFETEA-LU regulations, you may feel that you know about all the funds that are potentially available to your organization. But your advocate might have insider knowledge that can make even more funding available. Make your advocate a true believer so that your project becomes a personal campaign for him or her.