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Thursday, December 15, 2016

 10:54 AM 

Wendy Riemann column: Advantageous Advocacy: 2016 Top Ten Tips in Review

Whoa for 2016.  We witnessed ups, downs, and all-arounds, and left plenty of issues needing advocating in 2017.  To wrap up the year and prepare for the next, below are the Top Ten Advantageous Advocacy column tips.

1. Honesty is the best policy.  Once credibility is lost, the ship has sailed.

2. Respect time.  Wasting it is neither appreciated nor forgotten by an official.

3. Agree to disagree.  Never make attacks personal or shoot the messenger.  An advocate may disagree today, but may need to work with that same person in the future.

4. Do not talk about political contributions in an official meeting.  It sends a signal that this person either thinks the staff can be easily bought or that the staff was not professional enough to help unless the "skids were greased." Offending a staff person is never a good start to a meeting.

5. Trying to go over a staff person’s head is far more likely to damage an advocate’s reputation.  He is often hurting himself and slowing down the process.

6. Honor the lifelines.  As gatekeepers, they can facilitate a request or frustrate it. They can prevent an advocate/lobbyist from ever getting a meeting or provide useful knowledge.

7. Keep it simple.  After surveying of dozens of Hill staff, a whopping 88 percent said that for a first meeting with any group, they would prefer the group assumes the congressional office knows nothing about the topic at hand. Start at the very beginning.

8. In developing a message for an elected official, think RED.  Reason.  Emotion.  District.  Voting is one of the most important duties of an elected official. In a majority of cases, one, or perhaps two, and sometimes even all three categories of RED will greatly influence how an official decides on a vote.

9. Listen.  A person has two ears and one mouth, and should use them in proportion.  Listening requires being humble enough to focus 100 percent on someone else.  Listening entails complete concentration – not just hearing the sounds – but comprehending the words, and noticing body language and other non-verbal cues. Listening to what is NOT being said is also important because most staff and officials do not like giving “bad” news – therefore, an advocate sometimes needs to read between the lines and hear the unsaid no.  

10. Develop relationships, not a network.  Far too many individuals are focused on the instant reward, how fast they can work a room, and the number of business cards they can acquire at an event.  What is often overlooked in the networking game is actually developing some of that network into a sincere relationship - yes, a real friend - someone who is trustworthy, genuine, and giving.  In the age of virtual relationships, that real relationship can mean far more, both personally and professionally.  Think more Vanguard, less Pay Day Loan. A person wants to invest in another person, wants for that investment to grow, and would even take it paying back dividends at some point. Note the order of that: giving, growing, possible return.

Remember that everyone is capable of advocacy; passionate and committed people are the crux of advocacy.  In the story, "The Lorax," by Dr. Seuss, he writes, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

An elected official works for the people. The people's tax dollars pay his salary. The people who vote determine whether the official keeps his job. For an official to effectively serve and be reelected, he needs information from the people who know the issues best.  Bottom line: officials cannot represent us well if constituents are not willing to share their thoughts, ideas and knowledge through advocacy.

Thanks to WisPolitics and everyone for reading.  More on each of the top 10 tips can be found in full by visiting: www.1492communications.com/advocacy.  Happy holidays and looking forward to a great year of advocacy in 2017.
-- Riemann is president of 1492 Communications, a consulting firm. Like 1492 Communications on Facebook to learn more.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

 10:53 AM 

Wendy Riemann column: Advantageous Advocacy: Good letters are read, the rest are tallied

After a busy and political November, this week’s column takes a lighter tone: tips for letters. 

Letters and emails are still the most common form of communicating with a member of Congress. Depending on the office, officials often receive hundreds to thousands of letters each week on a range of topics as wide as the ocean.  Emails can easily be sent to most members of Congress via the official’s webpage (Note: this usually requires the constituent’s zip code to start and most sites do not allow for attachments).

Some of these letters are sent as form letters.  These forms are often drafted by an association or a cause, and sent to its membership or supporters, as an URGENT “action item” to sign and forward along to a specific official.  For most officials, unless there is an extremely massive quantity of form letters, the letters may flag the issue, but they do not move the needle.  (And candidly, most staff find them to be a bit of a nuisance). 

One of the biggest problems with form letters is that neither officials, nor their staff, really know the level of passion or commitment to the cause that a form letter signer holds.  In surveying staff on this issue, one said that he called a few signers to gain a better understanding of the issue, and one signer said how he did not really know anything, while another said a neighbor asked her to forward it so she did, and so on it goes… not the best advocates.  These letters are usually tallied up, the signer is often sent a courtesy form response back, and that is the end of it.  In my experience, most form letters are a waste of time and a good reminder to always know what is being signed. 

Facebook posts are growing more popular, however, an official usually cannot tell if the person is a constituent or not, so this is also not the most effective approach if a constituent is really trying to have a message be heard by his representative or senator. 

If a person does not have a relationship with an office from a previous encounter, a good, old-fashioned, signed personal letter or email is still the way to go for written contact.  Keep in mind that snail mail coming into the U.S. Capitol is screened, delaying its arrival.  If an issue is urgent, an email or phone call may be best.  For many offices, ten, genuine, personal letters are far more impactful than 100 form letters.  A personal letter from a constituent that tells the story about how a person is specifically impacted by an issue, shares his opinion on legislation, and is polite and factually accurate, is valued.  Doing all that in one page, and definitely less than two pages, is greatly appreciated.  These are the letters that are READ, not tallied.  Plus, personal letters often need and receive a more personal response.  If a constituent feels his letter was not responded to well, or was too generic, the constituent should write another letter.  Offices keep track of sent letters, so the staff will need to put more effort into a second response, as it should not send the same letter again.   

And of course, if letter writing is not a person’s favorite activity, there is always making an actual telephone call to the office or attending a town hall meeting – depending on the issue and time-sensitivity, each method has its own benefits and value.  

-- Riemann is president of 1492 Communications, a consulting firm. Like 1492 Communications on Facebook to learn more.

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