Hillwatch.com Revolutionizes Lobbying
Ottawa Citizen, December 18, 2000
Hillwatch.com Revolutionizes Lobbying
Internet is the Swiss Army knife of political organizations
By Kady O’Malley
It is not unusual for new lobbyists to set up shop or move an existing shop someplace else in the aftermath of a federal election.
But Hillwatch, the new firm started by veteran Ottawa lobbyists Scott Proudfoot and Michael Teeter, has a twist. In addition to more traditional government relations services, they aim to provide clients with a crash course in Web advocacy. They’re also the driving force behind www.hillwatch.com, a free site that provides access to hundreds of lobby groups and public interest organizations.
At first glance, the Hillwatch site looks more like a news product than the brainchild of a lobby firm, with up-to-the-minute headlines culled from online news services, as well as “Hillwatch Bulletins,” original material on topical issues.
Recent offerings include “Hillwatch’s Quick & Dirty Guide to the Liberal’s Promises” and “Stockwell Day in Cyberspace.”
Access to the site itself is free. But nestled discreetly behind links to the latest headlines, however, are descriptions of some of the new services Hillwatch provides.
The company offers a “Web Lobby Package”: a “customized, high quality Web site at approximately one-third of the usual market cost,” as well as packages that develop a “virtual activist strategy” — everything from setting up e-mail lists to automated fax and email campaigns.
Mr. Proudfoot says that he’s been building the Net into government relations strategies for several years now.
“The site is us being a bit more public about it, but we’ve been doing this for three or four years using the Internet to track issues, and get information from the government, as well as track competitors and their activities. We use it all the time.”
Mr. Proudfoot says that he first realized the potential for Web-based lobbying several years ago after taking a seminar on using the Net.
“I found that three-quarters of the people in the room were from the House of Commons. I asked them where they were going first for information, and they said the Net.”
He realized the implication for lobbying immediately.
He points to one of the features on the Hillwatch Web site: Lobby List, a comprehensive directory of public and private interest groups on the Net, organized by topic.
“Look at the positions that people are promoting: That’s where the laws and regulations are going to come from in the future,” he said. “There’s a whole interplay of these private sector groups competing to put those views across on the Net.”
The Internet, he says, is the Swiss Army knife of political organizations.
“It allows you to get in touch with supporters, publish your position, keep people up to date, motivate people to show up to events.”
While activist groups and smaller organizations have been using the Internet as part of their information campaigns for several years now, corporations and private sector companies have been slower to see the potential of Web advocacy.
“The activist groups have been far more astute about recognizing the organizational potential of the Internet, and the private sector is starting to catch up. The activist groups went out there first and showed what you could do. Now the corporate sector starting to react and be more effective.”
Mr. Proudfoot is no stranger to the Ottawa lobbying world. He cut his teeth working on the Hill in the 1970s, as an assistant to former Conservative minister Elmer MacKay, and was also involved in Joe Clark’s government in 1979-80. He was a founding partner of Industry Government Relations Group, one of the oldest lobby firms in town. But last month, he and Hillwatch co-founder Michael Teeter left IGRG to launch Hillwatch.
Although he hopes some of his existing clients take advantage of the new services that Hillwatch provides, the new firm will still provide all the traditional government relations services that were part of his work at IGRG.
One client that made the jump from IGRG to Hillwatch is Accord Business Credit. Although the company plans to continue with its traditional government relations services, Accord Financial president Ken Hitzig says he’s not sure about the new services.
Mr. Hitzig says that when it comes to getting his message out, broadcast media would still be his first choice.
“I wouldn’t say that my Web site would be the first place that I’d want to make my statement in some kind of adversarial relationship,” he said. “You’d have to count on people to come to your site to read your story, and if you have a good story; you don’t want to wait.”
He doesn’t discount the Web, but questions its utility in time sensitive situations.
“You would put your message there, but it wouldn’t be the first place you want to be.”
Mitchell Grey, government relations manager with Intuit Canada, another Hillwatch client that made the jump from IGRG, disagrees.
He thinks Web lobbying can help interest groups, especially the non-profit, NGO sector, and the business community on an issue specific basis.
“If you go back to 1984 and transpose the free trade debate, for instance, there would be a huge potential for business to use that type of lobbying.”