Political Consultants appear in Brussels in two forms. They are either rather large consultancy firms- partially purely Governmental Affairs firms, but often par of a law firm or media/PR consultancies, or they are individuals who cover a very specialized area on their own.  A distinction must be made between those that purely cover governmental affairs and those that offer political advice amongst other services.

Consultancy firms offer services in four categories.

  1. Their main function is to advise their clients on how and where to lobby, on the basis of their long-term experience of the institutional proceedings and the informal decision making in European legislation. Depending on the background of the firm, this may not only involve strategic advice, but also; for instance, campaign-management or the drafting of a comment on a regulatory directive.
  2. Their second role is to assess the way of lobbying  their clients have chosen on a political-survey. They analyze the overall standing of their clients in the institutions they lobby and help them to make decisions about future strategies.
  3. Their third function is active lobbying for their clients. The extent to which active lobbying is performed varies depending on the type of consultancy firm. Many firms refuse to perform the active lobbying, because they see it as a task of the client whom they can help for issue-related or long term public affairs strategy
  4. A fourth role contains what Political Consultants may be largely used for: They are hired to cover monitoring or information gathering- tasks for areas their clients may not be able to cover additionally or might only want to observe for a certain amount of time. The consultant’s specialization on certain fields may enable them to perform this function faster than a client may be able to. Especially monitoring of the European Parliament is often left to consultants, because institutional proceedings of the Parliament are more complex and time-consuming to observe than those of the other institutions.

Demand for these functions occurs at different stages of a client’s interest in lobbying. Often; consultants are hired for crisis-management, which is the most visible task and the reason for them being mistaken for sheer additional lobbying tools. Most consultants do not like to be associated with this role as ‘firemen’ too much. They rather see themselves as experts on the field of internal European decision making. Because of this expertise, many clients who think about getting involved in public affairs in Brussels consult them for a start-up assistance in order to organize their public affairs division properly. Some may engage in a long-term relationship with a consultant or consultancy firm for a certain area of their work, either for monitoring aspect or also for active lobbying, because they may not possess the expert knowledge on a given field themselves or do not see the need to be physically present in Brussels with their own office. Others have a short-term need for a certain amount of monitoring or lobbying field and will hire consultants on a flexible basis.

Individual lobbyists usually cover niche markets. They are experts in very specialized fields which are of interest for a limited number of actors and do not suffer any competition amongst consultants.

There are different reasons that guide the choice of a political consultant at various stages of the decision-making process. Either a client values the flexibility of a consultant because only short term needs have to be covered, or advice for the establishment of a public affairs division aimed at keeping learning costs at the lowest level. A certain area of monitoring may not be coverable from within the public affairs team and too complex to train an internal staff member, or a crisis cannot be managed any more so external help is necessary.

What makes a good Political Consultant:

  1. Brussels Experience:  Experience in the EU Capital may be measured in years, intensity and diversity.  The ability to form judgments requires the severe discipline of hard work and the tempering heat of experience and maturity. A consultant needs a rich, long and varied experience.
  2. Sector Leadership: Clients look to advice from the top practitioners in their sector, on often complex questions of policy affecting their particular sector. Brussels sector leaders stand out for the breadth and depth of their client relationships. 
  3. EU Affairs Expertise: To be successful a consultant needs to understand the importance of and excel in People, Policy, Process, and Politics.
  4. Consultancy Leadership: A consultant must display positive traits such as enthusiasm, communication skills, loyalty, decisiveness, managerial competence, integrity, empowerment and charisma. Being part of the management group or leading a major practice group of one of the top EU Public Affairs Consultancies may earn a seat at the top table.
  5. Peer Recognition Public affairs consultancy is a very competitive business so when individuals are recognized by their peers it says a great deal about them. Awards also say something about how Consultants are regarded by their clients and peers.
  6. Influential Personality: EU public affairs is all about influencing decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions. Knowledge and skills can be acquired and strengthened but personality is deep-rooted.  For lobbyists to secure a place in the room having a trusted conversation with policy-makers requires special personality traits. People who are able to bring about change at a very high level commonly share three important personality attributes; trustworthiness; proactivity and resilience. These are attributes that clients should look for in their lobbyists. .

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