Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tips from Congressional Staff

I had the opportunity to attend a Women in Government Relations breakfast this morning where four Congressional staff offered their insights into what works and what doesn't on Capitol Hill. Following is my own list of "Top 7 Do's and Dont's" based on their insightful comments:

1. Identify the purpose of the meeting before going in: Whether it's helping them understand an issue, inviting them back to the district or making a specific policy ask, staff appreciate it when you know what you want to get out of the meeting.

2. Do your homework: Staff and members alike want to know how your issue relates to the state or district they represent. You must be able to answer the question that is in your audience's mind, which is "why would I want to meet with this person?" The reason they want to meet with you is because you represent the interests of constituents. As one staffer put it "I will always find a time to meet with a constituent: with a lobbyist? Not so much."

3. Don't be scared to talk about what the opposition is doing: Congressional offices will always find out what the other side is saying. Getting that information from you leaves them with the impression that your arguments are strong enough to stand up to criticism.

4. Start with the proper legislative staff: As on staffer put it "[a] request for a meeting with the member of Congress should come last, not first." You want to build your relationship with the staff person who handles the issues, as they will be the ones the member of Congress turns to at the last minute to make a decision.

5. Don't bring in a large group: Every staffer mentioned this rule. Congressional offices are tiny. There's no space for a large group and certainly no time for 30 people to talk at once. If you do have a large group, be prepared to have one or two people act as spokespeople.

6. Don't ignore district offices: Important relationships can be formed with the staff in the district offices. If they think well of you and your issues, it's far more likely that the DC staff will as well.

7. Remember that Congressional staff are people too: Staff people are eager to learn about the issues, but they need to have technical issues explained, as one staffer put it, in "clear simple English." Imagine you were explaining this issue to a vary smart person who has no experience with it -- because that is often the case. In addition, turn your meeting into a conversation. If you're a constituent, or you represent the interests of constituents, they want to know you, not just your issue.

Use these tips to build quality relationships with Congressional offices. If you do, you'll be an effective advocate in no time!

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