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New report on effectiveness of advocacy methods

A survey report released yesterday has good news and bad news for association advocacy and government-relations professionals.

In short, it gives evidence that in-person constituent contact is the top method for influencing legislators, well above the effectiveness of direct contact from lobbyists. But, it seems that wide-scale grassroots form-letter campaigns are not nearly so effective.

These are both techniques often used by associations in their lobbying efforts, so this info provides a mixed bag of advice. The report, Communicating with Congress: Perceptions of Citizen Advocacy on Capitol Hill, conducted by The Partnership for a More Perfect Union at the Congressional Management Foundation, presents the results of a survey of 260 congressional staff members, mostly in the House of Representatives, in fall 2010.

My initial reaction to this is that every association that hosts a legislative "fly-in" day to bring members to meet with Congress should relay this piece of data to its members. What better way to encourage participation than to say "Your presence is the most effective method possible to represent the industry's needs to our legislators"?

But on the form-letter point, I wonder if this kind of grassroots advocacy is the best use of an association's GR resources or if it needs rethought. The report says that 53 percent of congressional staffers surveyed believe that form-message campaigns are sent without constituents' knowledge or approval. Whether this is true or not, it's a clear indicator of a lack of impact among the intended targets.

I'm not a GR pro, though, so I'm curious for your reaction to these points and to the report in general. What advocacy methods has your association found most effective?

[Sidenote: you may also be interested in "5 Ways Hill Staffers Evaluate Your Association," by Bill Dalbec, from this month's issue of ASAE's Government Relations e-newsletter.]



WITHOUT QUESTION an association (a group of entities or individuals) gains more credibility with officials and their staff from the Members themselves. However as a professional lobbyist, my job is to identify the RIGHT people to meet on the RIGHT issues at the RIGHT time. My members pay me to do that 'behind the scenes' work, then step back and take their picture. Officials and their staff rely on me to be there, to know the issues, and have my finger on the pulse of my Members. But when it comes for 'the ask' in the process...our Members are golden.

But without a doubt our association's best spokespeople and most effective lobbyists are those from 'the district.'

I do a session for Members called "Lobbying isn't Rocket Science," demonstrating some basic reminders when communicating with elected officials. Doesn't hurt to have someone give a lobbying education session once in a while.

A fly-in is more about public relations than it is about connecting with legislators. Associations get a lot of press coverage for these efforts.

But it's far more effective for association members to connect with their representatives in their home districts.

You shouldn't have to go to Washington or to the state capitol to tell your representatives who you are. They should know you back home and know what you care about.

Fly-ins play well with media, editorial boards, and the public. But the connection with legislators should have already been made.

Thanks Scott and David.

I like your take on the role of the lobbyist, Scott. Being the facilitator of connections is an important role. I see a similarity to my role as an editor: I can write all day, but when I can help association execs tell their stories in their own words, it creates a greater impact for readers. A lot of times, though, people don't think their stories or perspectives are interesting. I'm curious if you face similar challenges in asking members to be advocates. Do you find that they often don't see themselves as good candidates to meet with elected officials?

David, you're right about Washington, DC, fly-ins not being the exclusive point of value. I neglected to make that distinction in my post (my DC residence is showing). The Communicating With Congress report did mention in-person meetings in both DC and home-state offices, saying both are equally effective (and most effective above other methods): "Most of the staff surveyed said constituent visits to the Washington office (97%) and to the district/state office (94%) have some or a lot of influence on an undecided Member."

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