How to Engineer High-Impact Meetings With Lawmakers: 6 Improvements
Many government affairs professionals say it is getting harder to meet with lawmakers and staff. When you do sit down, you have to make it count. Here's what you can do.
Many government affairs professionals say it is getting increasingly harder to meet with lawmakers and staff, whether virtual or in person.
In the State of Government Affairs Survey, which asked almost 500 GA pros about their experiences, one third (33%) said it is getting tougher to secure meetings with members of Congress. Almost one in four (23%) said the same of state legislators.
The lesson is clear: when your team gets face time, you have to make it count.
Show Your Impact to Lawmakers
There are many ways government affairs teams can ensure high-value meetings with policymakers, whether as part of a fly-in or over a specific bill or issue. But there is one that stands above all others: It is vital to explain the full role your organization plays in legislative districts.
The reason is simple. Legislative offices, whether in Congress or the states, do not have enough time and resources to address every group and every issue immediately. To say these offices are busy is truly an understatement. There are dozens of meetings and thousands of communiques every day, all fielded by just a handful of staff and a single lawmaker. Add to that floor votes, committee meetings, campaign duties and fundraising and the picture becomes clear. There’s a reason that meetings are generally 10 or 15 minutes.
In order to get things done, offices prioritize constituents and organizations in the district. These are the ones who get consideration and action first. Everyone else gets in line. If your team is hoping to influence a policymaker on your issues, explaining your organization’s value in the district—and doing it fast—is vital to an effective meeting.
The best way to do this is often with statistics. If you represent a large number of constituents, that can be a primary measure. But it is not the only number that matters. There are many impactful metrics that tell your organization’s story, including the number of employees, offices or branches, products produced, charitable contributions, community grants or services provided. Choose those that best show your organization’s impact and make sure the team you are sending to the meeting is fully briefed.
Impact Reports Give You an Edge
This is one area where Capitol Canary helps. Our Intelligence suite generates self-service impact reports that allow you to consistently communicate your economic, social and political footprint in state and federal legislative districts, any time you like.
The reports are designed to be a quick and effective briefing for those stakeholders who are meeting with lawmakers. They contain bio information on the lawmaker, committee assignments, staff information and key metrics about your organization’s impact in the district. Our leading zip-to-district matching algorithms map your data to lawmaker districts and then keep that data updated, so you have a ready-to-go, self-serve report that is completely current and viewable on any device.
As redistricting takes place nationwide, our system simply adjusts. There’s no need to do anything. You won’t be slowed down. Because reports are available in every state and federal district, it allows you to systematically prepare your teams for meetings. That’s a major advantage during fly-ins, when briefing large numbers of people is a necessity. It will also help next year, when a new Congress will be sworn in. The result is always-on stakeholder engagement that transforms them into well-briefed advocates.
Take These Steps to Improve
Of course, there are many other tactics to make your meetings with lawmakers and staff more effective. Here are some ideas that should be part of every organization’s playbook.
- State Your Agenda Clearly. You may think it is obvious, but remember that staffers are busy. Most of the time, they will be well-briefed, but there are times when circumstances get in the way. Remind them exactly who you are, what your organization does and why you requested the meeting. Be clear and specific. If you are there to discuss a bill or funding for a program, say so. Asking for a broad policy discussion is unlikely to be met with smiles.
- Make Your ‘Ask’ Clear. Explain what the lawmaker can actually do. Sign onto a bill? Communicate with colleagues? Make it very clear what you actually want. “Support” can be an amorphous term. It is possible to support your position and do nothing about it. If a lawmaker supports you, they are likely to inquire how they can help. Have a direct answer and make sure your “ask” includes concrete action.
- Bring a Constituent. No lawmaker will willingly ignore the people they represent. Constituent service is a major part of legislative work at every level. That’s why it is always smart to include a constituent in your delegation, and preferably someone with a compelling story. When you do so, your organization is generating a direct connection to the lawmaker’s primary agenda. During the meeting, let that constituent do some of the talking.
- Follow Up Through Multiple Channels. A meeting is a good start, but lawmaker offices address dozens of issues. Respectful follow-up is important. Thank participants for the meeting and send them succinct materials that support your position. You can also run advocacy campaigns to show that your issue is meaningful to constituents. When you do, solicit personal stories from your supporters, employees or customers. These stories give issues a human face, and they allow lawmakers to solidify their position based on authentic input from constituents. Lawmakers often cite constituent stories when they speak on issues. Providing those stories can help your cause.
- Show Appreciation. Playing a public-facing role in a lawmaker’s office is often thankless work. They deal with hundreds of people, tight schedules and often have to say “no.” When a public official and their staff helps your organization, show your appreciation. Send a personal note to thank each person involved. Then, thank the lawmaker in public posts, when appropriate. Everyone likes to hear that their work is appreciated.
Though we are coming upon the time of year when fly-ins and lobby days are already on the books and underway, most of these tactics can be integrated this year without many obstacles. Showing your impact, communicating clearly, working with constituents and running campaigns are all things that can be added to your current efforts. Smart teams will be looking at exactly that type of optimization this season. Because face time is only going to get more valuable.