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Home arrow Management arrow Strategic Management in the 21st Century. The Operational Environment


Any organization that feels it needs to play the game of politics in its state's capital or in Washington, D.C., needs to have in mind a set of goals or objectives. You need to clearly state what you want and why you want it. Politics is often called the politics of compromise, so you need to also have in mind your fallback position or compromise position. You should be aware of the resources you may already have in-house (within the organization) or access to these resources from previous ventures in the world of politics (if any) and special relationship your organization may have with politicians or governmental agencies that may be useful. One should be aware of the potential time frame in which the political goals need to be achieved. Is this a long-term goal? Or does it have to be done right now? Often, like purchasing airline tickets, right now can be very expensive. Some sense of possible costs is also essential to consider. Start with the costs of failure to your company or association. Some outcomes from governmental decision making can be extremely costly—maybe even fatal— to an interest. Other costs may involve only a minor inconvenience. If it is the latter case, then a low-cost lobbying campaign may be just fine. But if it is the former, substantial costs may be completely justified. Finally, consider what information and data need to be collected and evaluated that might be useful in the upcoming campaign. OK, now we have the elements of a plan. The next step is implementation.


Just like a military general in a war, today's business leaders need intelligence and experience in order to deploy the army's resources in such a way as to maximize the prospects of victory. For a CEO to try to make his or her case to the government unassisted is like trying to do your own brain surgery. You can try, but it is not recommended. Think of the lobbying team as your intelligence branch, or G-2 in military slang. Large corporations have their own in-house lobbying team in their public relations (PR) or government affairs division. The larger the corporation, the more specialized that team may be: some specialize in state and local lobbying and others may specialize in federal lobbying, and the company, if it has concerns with the federal government, may have its own office in Washington, D.C., or lobbying firms it has on retainer.

What do these lobbyists do? There are specialized roles that lobbyists have developed over the decades. One of the most important roles is that of watchdog—lobbyists who are assigned to specific sites in government watch for potential problems that may emerge that may impact, negatively or positively, their employer. Not the most exciting job, day in and day out, but just like a nation's spy in a neutral country, the information they find can make the difference between being ready to deal with a threat or opportunity and being surprised and perhaps, suffering defeat. Around Congress or a state legislature, these watchdogs attend committee meetings and political party discussions and listen and follow up on bits of information. It is important that these watchdogs know the vital interests of the company so they can understand when something that may sound quite disassociated really might be important down the road.

A second and very frequent type of lobbyist role is that of contact man— someone who knows key people in government and other interest groups and is able to identify who to talk to about a certain type of issue at this particular moment of the public-policy process. From the viewpoint of major law and lobbying firms, these lobbyists are often called "rainmakers" because of the big-money clients they are expected to bring into the firm. Many contact lobbyists are high-level former officials in government— some are former senators and House members, whereas others have worked in the executive branch offices of the president or governors. The biggest names in this category can demand and get salaries that run well over a million dollars a year. Their real value lies in the unique access they retain to communicate a client's interests and concerns directly to the people in the government who have the power to accomplish policy objectives. The policy process is filled with veto points and roadblocks that can affect a policy or a piece of legislation. The policy process is also filled with many actors who can assist or hinder one's interests in many different ways—many of them hidden behind the scenes and nearly invisible to even the decision makers in the process. Government at all levels, but especially at the federal and state levels, has gotten just too complicated and the people who understand that the best are often the lobbyists who specialize in the very narrow and complex pieces of the process.

A third role for lobbyists is that of the persuader. Persuaders are the lobbyists we think of when we think of them in the popular mass media— the ones with the thousand-dollar suits and the Gucci shoes. These are the lobbyists out front in the policy battles. They go from office to office. They shepherd people from the home districts back to the state capitols and Congress. They are the ones sitting up in the balcony on the last night of the session hoping that the bills they support are on the calendar and will be heard and voted upon before the session is adjourned. They are the experts on the members of a legislature or Congress and their staff. They know who your friends and enemies are, who needs campaign funds in the next election, what arguments and facts will be effective, and who is persuadable and who isn't.

Other lobbyists are specialists in certain parts of modern lobbying campaigns. Some specialize in grassroots campaign organization, where the lobbyist attempts to create pressure on political decision makers by getting people in their districts or home states to make demands on these decision makers to support certain policies or issues. Others organize coalitions of several or many interest groups or corporations to join together on a specific issue campaign. This has become a much more common strategy in recent years and affords the advantage of both economies of scale and specializations of access. Five groups, for example, can contact many more decision makers in a legislature than just one, but each group will often have very specialized relationships with specific legislators, which facilitate access that one group could never achieve.

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