7 Crucial Elements for a Successful Virtual Fly-in
A virtual fly-in can increase participation, decrease costs and minimize the risks associated with hosting a lobby day. Here are some ideas to help your organization mobilize online.
Fly-ins have always been about real people meeting face-to-face with their representatives in Congress, and they are a powerful tool. Yet, as many government affairs professionals learned in the last year, the virtual fly-in has serious advantages.
Virtual fly-ins minimize costs, lower the barrier to entry for participants and minimize risk. Connecting supporters to members of Congress digitally is simply far more efficient than flying people to Washington. The result is that many organizations saw participation swell when fly-ins went virtual.
“Many of the organizations we work with saw real value in a virtual event,” said Jeb Ory, co-founder and chief strategy officer at Capitol Canary. “For one thing, its much easier to attract participation. Not everyone can fly to Washington, but most organizations have advocates who are willing to jump on a Zoom call. In-person meetings will always be valuable, but this is a great alternative.”
While a virtual event may be easier than a physical event, any fly-in is always a major undertaking. At Capitol Canary, we deal with hundreds of companies that conduct successful fly-ins, and they identify several critical elements to make an event work. We have collected some of those components here to help your organization mobilize.
Preparation is Essential
Like so many things in government affairs, working in advance can make a major difference. A detailed action plan is essential, covering exactly what needs to be accomplished and who owns each item. Here are some tactics to consider:
- Ensure Participation. When your supporters agree to meet with a lawmaker or staffer, that’s one call they cannot miss. Setup a schedule for them and use automated reminders to keep everyone on track. Group supporters into teams, so that there are several people talking to each lawmaker. That way, even if some supporters do skip out, no meeting will be thinly attended.
- Invest in Training. Your supporters must be able to convey your message and answer questions with confidence. That means they must understand your issues intimately. Schedule multiple training sessions long before your fly-in to get your supporters up to speed. Don’t just send bodies to meet with Congress. Send educated delegates.
- Use Collateral. A one-page digital summary that explains your issue and your position, delivered to lawmakers in advance, can save a great deal of time. Most meetings with lawmakers last about 15 minutes. If the basics are covered in your briefing document, your advocates can use that time to tell their stories—and that is what resonates with public officials.
- Collect Intelligence. Fly-ins are used to convey information to Congress, but information can and should flow both ways. Your advocates can bring back valuable political intelligence, explaining where lawmakers stand and what they said. Ask your supporters to supply an after-action synopsis and give them a single system to deposit this intelligence, including their report, notes, pictures and audio or video clips.
A successful fly-in can help your program long after the Big Day—if you do things correctly.
- Create Momentum. Your team will spend time and energy creating momentum going into your fly-in. You should ensure that you have momentum coming out of the event, too. Publicize your efforts, and not just the day after. Keep the website updated. Keep social channels buzzing. Done correctly, you can be highlighting your fly-in with fresh content for several weeks.
- Harvest Compelling Content. If you are inviting scores of supporters to meet with lawmakers, this is a great time to collect their personal stories. These can be written accounts or audio or video clips. Stories collected now can be used in campaigns all year long.
- Focus on Super Advocates. The people who participate in a fly-in, attending training and then meeting with a lawmaker, have made a major commitment to your organization. Treat them like they are special. Give them personal thanks, access to your leadership, perks to reward participation and anything else you can think of to keep them motivated. These are the people who will help your advocacy efforts moving forward.
Of course, there are many more components that go into a successful fly-in. But many organizations say the work is a solid investment of time and effort.
“A fly-in helps your organization in so many ways,” Ory said. “It increases your visibility, builds relationships and shows your advocates that you are championing their issues at the highest levels. The planning and organizing is always tough. But the results are almost always worthwhile.”