Biz417: Does Your Company Need a Lobbyist?
Published in Biz417 — November-December 2018
by Ettie Berneking
How does the old saying go? There’s no I in team? Well there’s also no I in government. And if you’re at the helm of a business trying to navigate the endless maze of legislation and government regulation alone, you’re probably running into a lot of dead ends. Enter the lobbyist. Whether you’re stuck juggling regulations, interested in policy that could affect your business, want a seat at the table or need help securing government funding, a lobbyist could help. These networking pros can help companies navigate the often confusing political system that—let’s face it—affects businesses everywhere.
Christian Morgan is a lobbyist with Husch Blackwell Strategies, a lobbying firm that provides strategic consulting services. Before joining Husch Blackwell last January, Morgan spent 14 years working inside the political system. He worked on political campaigns and served as congresswoman Ann Wagner’s chief of staff for five years. “I’ve seen lobbying from different angles,” he says. “At the end of the day, lobbying is about fighting for the priorities and needs of businesses or associations you represent.”
For lobbying firms, that could mean working for a nonprofit like the National Children’s Alliance or a sizeable corporation like Bayer, both of which are clients of Husch Blackwell Strategies. This diverse portfolio of clients is an example of one myth Morgan would like to bust: You don’t have to be in a certain industry or of a certain size to seek lobbying help. Whether you are in the agriculture space or manufacturing, or you’re a small business, you can benefit from teaming up with a lobbyist. “These days, you’re going to interact with the government sometime during the week or month,” Morgan says. “We help you navigate the politics of the day to make sure you’re achieving the results you’re looking for.”
The litany of political issues affecting business seems to change by the hour in today’s world. Trade wars, tariffs and water regulations are all front-of-mind for Midwestern clients. Some are wanting to improve and increase regulations and government intervention, while others would like to decrease the government’s role. Determining your goal as a business is the first step to selecting a lobbyist. “We have to figure out a client’s needs in order to determine if our talents fit those needs,” Morgan says. “Is your policy issue at the state or federal level? Does your lobbying firm have connections with the lawmakers and regulators who can make a difference?” These are questions Morgan suggests answering before securing the services of a particular lobbying firm.
Trevor Crist is CEO of Nixon & Lindstrom Insurance, and he hired lobbyist Jeffrey Altmann with Viceroy Government Relations for help. Crist was looking for someone to keep his business up-to-date on policy and knew that coordinating meetings with legislators could be, as he describes it, a little like “a wheelbarrow full of rabbits.” “Things can change at a moment’s notice,” he says. “Having someone present during session is extremely valuable.”
All too often, the term lobbyist brings to mind closed-door meetings and backroom deals where favors are traded for policies. But Morgan and Crist say that perception of lobbyist doesn’t hit the mark. “People hear the term lobbyist and immediately think of positioning and persuasion,” Crist says. “In reality, regardless of the topic, it is about staying informed and having access to the right conversations.”