HARDI will be holding, in conjunction with the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, a Washington, DC, Congressional Fly-In as part of its Mid-Year business meeting April 30 to May 3. This event is a critical step in our efforts to gain attention in Washington, DC. In fact, many groups of our size and budget already conduct annual lobby days. Our inaugural effort this spring will do much to forward our interests in the policy-making process.
If you are wondering whether you should attend (and whether your voice makes a difference in the process), wonder no more. Members of Congress and their extremely smart (and often young) staff pay a great deal of attention to constituents from their districts. In short, your voice can have a tremendous impact.
And why is your voice important? Well, believe it or not, most elected officials don't know much about our industry. Yet they frequently must make decisions that will affect our bottom line. In engaging in a discussion with your Congressional representatives, you can help ensure that those decisions are well-informed — and HARDI is working to make that as easy as possible for you.
How Does a Congressional Fly-In Work?
HARDI has retained Advocacy Associates, LLC, a Washington, DC, firm, to schedule meetings for our fly-in. They have coordinated lobby day events for hundreds of advocates and have the experience necessary to make this a winning event for all. Here are answers to a few “frequently asked questions” about Congressional fly-ins.
- Who will I be meeting with? Advocacy Associates schedules primarily constituent-based meetings. This means that we will contact the House and Senate offices that represent the specific addresses we have on file. Hence, having your correct street address information is critical. Congressional offices often ask for detailed information about the geographic location of the person requesting the meeting because they need to focus their time and attention on those that live or work in their Congressional districts. For HARDI members with multiple facilities, we will need street addresses for those facilities in order to cross-match with the relevant Congressional districts.
- Will all of our meetings be with the elected officials themselves? Advocacy Associates makes every effort to schedule the meeting with the elected official. However, their schedules are very tight, and sometimes it just isn't possible. In those cases, a staff person who handles HARDI issues will arrange the meetings. Often, these meetings are as effective, if not more effective, in getting your message heard and handled because the staff have more time to sit down with your advocates in the meeting and can build long-term relationships after they return home.
- How will Advocacy Associates let us know about the meetings they've scheduled? HARDI advocates will receive a detailed schedule of their meetings during the conference. Because many Congressional offices do not schedule appointments until the last minute (due to changing hearing and vote schedules), it is not possible to provide complete schedules ahead of time. However, the Advocacy Associates team will be happy to answer any questions from individual advocates about their meetings.
What Can I Expect in the Meeting?
HARDI advocates will be able to attend an advocacy training session before their meeting that will answer all their questions about effective meetings. But in case you're curious, here are a few points to keep in mind:
- Make the ask: Asking for something specific is sometimes the only way to get a Congressional office's attention. Your goal is to force someone in the office to think about you and your issues for longer than five minutes — making the “ask” helps you achieve that goal. HARDI will provide detailed information about the asks (including a briefing) for this event at the meeting.
- Know a little about your audience: If you have a chance, go to www.congress.gov to check out bills your members of Congress have introduced. You can also check out their websites at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov. Understanding what issues interest your representatives can be useful in a meeting.
- Tell a personal story: As a representative from the district, your goal is to make policy issues real for the elected official. You can do that by relating how proposed policy changes might impact you and your business directly.
- Be flexible: Your meeting may take place standing up in the hallway or on the run to a vote or may be cancelled with no warning. Members have to deal with sudden and dramatic shifts in their schedules on a daily basis. Unfortunately, this can affect the people they are planning to meet with.
- Take names. Make sure you know “who's who” in the meeting, and take down the names of any staff people you may need to deal with in the future.
- Don't forget the “leave behind.” Leave behind short, concise and consistent information. Instead of handing over a pile of propaganda, leave a list of resources such as articles and reports that your organization has available. That way, if the staff need more details, they know what information you have and where to find it. Again, HARDI will provide leave-behind materials at the event.
The most important thing to remember about effective meetings? Well, they can, and should, be invigorating experiences. Attending a Congressional Fly-In event should never feel like drudgery. Communicating your views to your elected representatives in Congress is not only an important democratic right and responsibility — it's also a great way to share your passion for the industry with people who can make a tremendous difference in our future success.
Stephanie Vance, the Advocacy Guru, is author of Government by the People: How to Communicate with Congress and a former Capitol Hill veteran. She lives and works in Washington, DC, offering workshops and advice on effective advocacy. Find out more at www.advocacyguru.com.