I am sometimes asked if I were looking for a political consultant what would I look for?
I usually answer that I would look for someone who not only has walked through the political fires and back, but someone who has shepherded people through the political fires and back, and lived to tell the tale.
But, it is a good question, and after some thought, here is a check list of what I would want from political consultant:
Laws and rules are adopted according well laid out processes. I would expect my political consultant to be very comfortable working their way round those processes, or being able to work through the reference guides to them. I’m always surprised at how many people have not read the European Commission’s Manual of Procedures, or at least know how to look up points in this reference text.
Being comfortable with the procedures of the Commission, Parliament, and Council has other uses. Sometimes, although not that often, officials and politicians adopt laws without complying with their own rules. If you don’t know the rules are being broken, you’re missing a trick serving your clients.
Some way along the road people sometimes forget that its people making and influencing decisions. I’d expect my political consultant to know who those people are, understand what makes them tick, and ideally, be able to pick up the phone, and find out what’s really driving the hearts and minds of the key people making decisions on the issue at hand.
It is remarkable how often people forget the politicians, whether they are Commissioners or MEPs are politicians. Politicians tick differently than other people. And, I would want a political consultant who understands what is driving those key politicians at that given moment on my given issue.
I would need someone who can help position my case in the best way possible for that given political audience. There is no point, in my view, except for the high cost game of standing on principle, of making a case to a politician that is diametrically opposed to everything that had politician stands for. There would be little benefit in repeating company mantras to someone whose whole political history and values suggests that they would oppose them.
Rather, I would want a political consultant, who could help position my case in a way that resonates with the politician, whether they are a MEP or Commissioner, and have them co-opt my case as if it were their own.
Life is too short to work with unpleasant people. I would like someone who was there to serve my interests, and give me their best advice whenever it is needed.
I would not want a yes man, telling me that an idea given in anger was a great idea. A good adviser tells you what you need to know and do, even when you don’t want to hear it. I am sure there are more ancient professions who are prepared to say the client is great and correct, whatever the reality.
I would like them to be pleasant and civil to work with.
I would expect that my political consultant is able to make my complex issues clear and simple for their intended audience. I’m after someone who can remove the complexity from often-technical cases and whilst not making them simplistic, can gracefully clarify the key issues and solutions to the audience. Here I am looking for something similar to a lawyer before the jury. They need to make the case clear and persuasive to win.
What I would Not Look For
I certainly wouldn’t look for someone who was an issue expert on my issue. I’m hiring someone to solve the political or regulatory problem. I have not sure there what issue is that complex that requires a political consultant who is both a technical expert as well as a first class political expert. I’d look for someone who would learn quickly what needs to be known for the case at hand, and nothing more. If I want a technical expert discussion, I’d hire a technical expert.
Criteria to make choices
I’m sure the above qualities are not easy to find. But, just as if I were looking for a first-class lawyer to represent me in a civil let alone a criminal matter, or speak with the surgeon who would perform some intrusive and potentially life-saving medical intervention, I would look for some very objective criteria before making that choice.
There are extras of course, but these are the basics I would need.