We recently attended Milwaukee Night in Washington, an opportunity hosted by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. The annual networking event gives a Milwaukee business executives a chance to network with Milwaukee-area elected officials and their Washington, D.C.-based staffs. Several weeks out, we arranged for meetings with members of Congress, and invited a client to join us at these engagements.
A business contact asked me, “Why on earth would you wanna do that?”
I quickly responded, “Why wouldn’t we?”
Our reason was simple, in fact it’s one of our values at Kane: elevating connections. We believe strongly in the power of connection and what better place to connect than Washington, D.C.? In an era of email inundation and social media saturation, face-to-face meetings with elected officials add special value to the advocacy process.
But it’s not something you do a whim. After living in the nation’s capital for three years, I’ve come to appreciate the planning that goes into a congressional meeting. Here are some helpful tips for preparing and participating in meetings with elected officials.
Don’t just show up.
Work with their schedulers weeks in advance to lock in a time on the calendar.
The slot you get may only be 15 to 20 minutes. If you’re lucky, you may get 30. In some cases, you don’t actually meet with the elected official. Instead, you may get time with the chief of staff, a personal staffer or legislative assistant. Don’t be dismayed. These personal staff members are trusted advisers on the representative’s team. In many cases, they know more details about specific issues than the elected officials, themselves. And they do share their insights with the boss. That’s their job.
The best meetings on Capitol Hill are thoughtful and deliberate. This means planning in advance. Think about what issues are important to you, and figure out how you can make these interests relevant to your legislators. Know what they stand for and speak to their issues. Many representatives post a list of their issues on their website along with press releases and fact sheets. You can also research past voting records and media coverage to better understand where they stand.
Don’t be discouraged by disagreement.
If you disagree on topics or have a different political leaning, don’t forgo meetings. As a constituent who lives in their district or state, your opinions and voice matter to them.
Your conversation may be as simple as educating or informing representatives about issues that matter to you or your organization. Or you may have something more high stakes. The important thing is to be prepared, and know what you want to accomplish. While it takes time and effort to meet in-person with your elected officials, it still remains the most effective way to share your message and influence them.
Has your voice been heard on Capitol Hill?
- Ann Knabe, PhD, APR
The Importance of Culturally Relevant Communications