A big reason clients give as an explanation for firing their lobbyists is the lack of communication. Lack of communication can occur at either the lobbyist’s or the client’s initiative. I say initiative because non-communication is a conscious choice. Sometimes a lobbyist doesn’t want to “waste” time communicating with clients, especially bad ones. Or some clients may be so intimidated by their lobbyists that, to the point of irresponsibility, they procrastinate expectedly unpleasant calls.
At your first meeting, your contractor assesses whether you will be a good client or a bad client1. If you appear to be a good client, that is, a peer who is able to manage your campaign, then he or she will respect you and make time to communicate. If the lobbyist concludes you will be a bad client, that is, good for a fee but not much else, then he or she will avoid or control you, as much as possible. I expect most clients who fire their lobbyists are simply bad clients. If a lobbyist can get away with non-communication because the client can’t or won’t demand it, then why communicate?
“[Y]ou must take the initiative to emphasize the importance of and expectation for regular communication between the two of you. You both agree on the frequency and method of regular communication…
At the beginning of your relationship, normally pre-session and early in the session, and to ensure your lobbyist is acting appropriately on your behalf, you should require weekly updates explaining what the lobbyist has done and what he or she plans to do next.
At a critical moment, such as before a committee vote, if you are absent, reports are delivered moment by moment. After the session, your lobbyist should provide a general overview of it, what he or she has done for your principal, and what remains to be done.”2
However, the client’s expectation of communication has to be tempered.
During the session, your contractor starts the day with early breakfasts and ends with late-night suppers. You are not the lobbyist’s only client. Another issue may suddenly go ER-critical, and for the moment it’s more important than yours. A lawmaker may demand immediately the lobbyist’s attention. Another client may be in town and the lobbyist can’t see you both, much less communicate. In other words, your contractor is not and cannot be at any client’s beck and call. Clients have to work within the frenetic3, consuming pace of the legislative session.
The client’s problem develops with a contractor’s pattern of non-communication, not instances of a lobbyist being unable to immediately return a call, much less take a client’s call. But by incorporating the mutual expectation of communication into the lobbying plan, and by enforcing it, clients can reduce the chances that lack of communication will fester into a problem.
Regular communication breeds client trust, more effective contractors, and better lobbying results.
- “How to Be an Effective Client,” Insiders Talk: Winning with Lobbyists Professional edition, pgs. 143-164. This chapter discusses what makes a good client; and it touches upon 12 kinds of bad clients, and how lobbyists deal with them.
- Insiders Talk: Winning with Lobbyists Professional edition, pg. 150.
- Frenetic: fast and energetic in a rather wild and uncontrolled way. Google Words (accessed January 17, 2019).