Upgrading was forced on Don Flanagan, CEO of Boston-based Brandon Associates, a $1-million public-affairs firm. It was that or turn down a profitable, high-profile sale.

In January 1994 multibillion-dollar client Comdisco asked Brandon to lobby for a certain tax credit to become law in Massachusetts. Time was short -- Brandon had only six months before the next vote, and in that time it had to lobby legislators, motivate area companies to join the push, and keep everyone updated. "I knew it would take an enormous amount of technology to work that fast," says Flanagan.

Brandon's legislative director, Stephanie King, had six weeks to purchase new equipment and get it working. She spent several days visiting local computer retailers and chatting up a computer-whiz friend. Deciding that speed and processing power were Brandon's main concerns, she chose two 486DX computers with fax modems, two Hewlett-Packard printers and fax modems, and a more powerful fax machine. The total investment: $10,000.

It paid off. King sat in on weekly legislative hearings and took notes on her laptop. Each day she sent updates by electronic mail or fax to the companies that made up the lobby coalition. In her database she kept a list of each company's state legislators, along with their opinions on the bill, so she could quickly notify her coalition about which legislator to contact and what topics to hit on. She also faxed or E-mailed tips for dealing with the press to the executives. "We were able to hit every legislator," recalls Flanagan. In six months the bill became law -- record time for state legislation.

"We were elated," says Mike Richards, a tax supervisor for Comdisco. He was impressed by how quickly Flanagan moved, and he has since recommended Brandon to other potential clients -- a boon in the world of lobbyists, where word of mouth is everything. The payoff for Brandon: referrals, plus $125,000 from Comdisco for the job. -- Sarah Schafer

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