Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Knowing the Nature of What You’re Selling: Part 4 – Timeframe

In the last few posts I’ve talked about how effective lobbyists understand the nature of what they’re selling in Washington, D.C.. They identify the intent (action vs. inertia), the scope (controversial or not), the importance (must do vs. may do) and the timeframe (short vs. long term). This post covers the final factor, timeframe. When a policy decision must be made quickly, it’s easier for special interests to “pile on” their pet projects. Policymakers are likely to just “go with the flow” because they simply do not have the time to consider an alternative option. Look at the example of the emergency payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits extension passed on Friday February 17th, 2012. Tucked into the bill were provisions to “study the use of state and local 9-1-1 service charges,” as well as funds to conduct research into wireless public safety communications. Believe it or not, these telecommunications-related sections of the bill were considered “germane” because proceeds from the sale of wireless spectrum were one means used to pay for the tax break and benefit extension. Oh, and because the “Next Generation 9-1-1 Advancement Act,” which was the genesis for this section bill, was originally introduced by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), a member of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee.

Whether you agree with this “piling on” approach or not, it’s effective. Clearly, the timeframe of passage impacts both the types of strategies you use in your influence campaign, as well as how extensively you use them. A couple hours of research might be appropriate for a decision to be made within a few weeks, while several weeks (and, indeed, ongoing analysis) would be appropriate for causes that will take several years to finalize one way or another. At the same time, you may need to build a foundation over time in order to take advantage of a “spur of the moment” opportunity. Rep. Shimkus introduced the 9-1-1 improvement act in July of 2011. He and his allies were well positioned – and early on.

Overall, when playing the influence game recognize that some “yeses” are easier to get to than others depending on all these factors. The easiest tend to be short term “must do” decisions that are non-controversial and not action-oriented. On the more difficult end of the spectrum are controversial, optional decisions that require your decision maker to take proactive action. If you know the nature of what you’re selling, you can find where you are on this spectrum, and plan your strategy accordingly. If your idea is a little on the controversial side, look for opportunities to connect it with those on the “easier” end of the spectrum. This is a tried and true legislative strategy that works.

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