In an ongoing series on the Top Lobbying Firms in Florida, Sunshine State News has some pretty apt observations about the successes and strengths of firms, large and small. Unlike rankings made by other media outlets using raw compensation data, SSN attempts to even the playing field by dividing total firm compensation by the number of lobbyists on staff. On one hand, this helps portray firm activity in a novel way; but on another, it unfairly distorts rankings toward leaner groups or those with only highly tenured partners.
I’ve made a lot of 50 state charts to rank outcomes. Too many to count, especially if you consider each column of an Excel sheet to be its own 50-state array. On most indicators, you want to standardize data by population. Otherwise, Florida and California would always be the best (or worst) on all counts, and we know that’s far from true.
Yet there are also cases where standardizing by population derives erroneous conclusions more than raw data alone. Because of this, epidemiologists studying disease use complex formulas to account for the fact that factors differ for people through the life span. In other words, it doesn’t make sense to divide by the total number of people when not each person is equal.
Although in a different context, the same precautions could be heeded when ranking Florida’s best lobby firms.
Using SSN’s metrics, Southern Strategy Group ranked in at No. 8. This well-known, adroit team is a big one: SSN counted 18 lobbyists on their roster. With $3.9 million in 2012 legislative compensation, Southern Strategy Group was calculated by SSN to bring in $216,000 per lobbyist.
Other firms that bring in considerably less, but with fewer lobbyists, have stats that look more favorable. But are they really?
Another way to even the playing field and standardize results would be to look at the top five billers from each firm. Using the example of Southern Strategy Group again, their top five billers likely do better than the top five lobbyists in any other firm in Florida.
And this isn’t to say that the rest of the Southern team is dead weight hanging on. Quite the contrary. Even their lower-end billers are profitable and add value to the team. Many of them are young and still learning the trade.
So while intended to recognize firms that pack a large punch per person, in effect, this new analysis penalizes firms for building a farm team and spreading the wealth.
To clients considering which firm to sign, the only real measure that matters is whether the team will get the job done. Toward that, what better indicator is there than total robust earnings demonstrating client trust and investment over time?
Karen Cyphers, PhD, is a public policy researcher, political consultant, and mother to three daughters. She can be reached at email@example.com.