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The 10-Step D-I-Y Meeting Agenda Planner

May 25, 2017

“I survived another meeting that should have been an email,” reads the coffee mug on my corporate friend’s desk. We have all been there, so we should do our best not to give others THAT feeling during our own meetings. No one, especially an elected official, has time in the day to be wasted by an ill-prepared group.

A worthwhile and efficient meeting usually requires solid preparation and strong organization. A leader (and we can all be leaders) putting in a little time up-front goes a long way toward achieving objectives and making meeting attendees believe their time is valued.

Below is a 10-step do-it-yourself starter agenda planner to get any advocacy group off on the right meeting foot.

1) Define the meeting purpose: (informing, persuading, making an ask, inviting, etc. — if no specific purpose can be defined, skip the meeting)

2) Establish a clear meeting goal: (signing onto a letter, sponsoring legislation, attending an event, etc.)

3) Make introductions: (be brief, mention the district/state whenever possible, provide an individual’s credibility and relevance for being in the meeting)

4) Share stories/facts/figures/background: (be compelling, be relevant, be accurate)

5) Highlight the district/state/community impact: (officials are elected by constituents so his/her constituents must feel the impact for an official to heavily engage)

6) Make the ask: (be specific — please support H.R. 1234, please sign X letter, please be neutral on this legislation instead of opposed, etc.)

7) Discussion: (think and strategize — what would this person want or need to know that has not already been covered, such as who is already supporting and opposing this, what are the hidden costs, why has it not been done before, etc.)

8) Timeline: (are there deadlines to meet or is it worth including time estimates for each section on the agenda)

9) Wrap-up: (say thank you and share contact information)

10) Follow-up: (send a thank you note with any relevant information requested or needed within one week)

Organizing ahead of time will keep the meeting ordered, on-topic, and goal-centric. Furthermore, sending out a formal agenda about a week before the meeting with a list of participants and any intended handouts will better allow the attendees to be prepared and possibly even conduct relevant background research before the meeting, as opposed to reviewing it while someone is speaking during the meeting.

Finally, government schedulers often plan 30 minutes for a meeting. Aim to finish the meeting agenda in 20 minutes or less to either allow the official more time to discuss, or delight him by adding a few minutes back into his day (this may seem insignificant however, it could mean the difference between a visit to the restroom or eating lunch).

Countless surveys suggest unorganized meetings are one the biggest time wasters at work — start proving this otherwise!


April 21, 2017

During my first week as speechwriter for then Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a letter landed on my desk that said, “Wendy – FUP – Jeb.”

Confused, I strolled over to the beloved communication director’s office to ensure FUP did not mean I had somehow gotten myself fired in week one. She informed me that FUP was the governor’s way of asking someone to follow-up (and that I still had a job). In what would become my first of many FUPs (Follow Up Please) from the governor, and a valuable lesson in responsive customer service, I immediately followed-up with the letter writer and resolved the issue.

If LOL and OMG have been added to the Oxford English Dictionary, then FUP makes it into my personal dictionary. First as a word, and second as a critical best practice.

Advocacy is a marathon, not a sprint, and the FUP is a critical tool for success in the endeavor.

No meeting is ever one-and-done. As explained in last month’s column, we should always say “thank you” after a meeting. Expressing thanks is a perfect first FUP in advocacy. For example, “Thank you for taking the time to meet with us about school choice… Here is that information you requested about positive academic gains…”

FUPs continue the dialogue and demonstrate a person is willing to put some skin in the game on behalf of the cause.

Previously, 1492 Communications surveyed dozens of Capitol Hill and state government staff about the follow-up. An overwhelming 75 percent said that they task at least 50 percent of their group meetings with providing them some sort of additional information before the staff member follows-up on the request. For instance, please send me that article mentioned, or the study referenced earlier, so I can consider this further.

Staff temporarily pass the buck to the group. If the group sends the requested material, then the staff person FUPs on the items. If a group lets the task fall to the wayside, often the staff does too, perceiving it as an indication of the group’s lack of commitment to the cause.

When I served as the Director of Federal Relations for Wisconsin, I personally tasked groups with a FUP on more than one occasion for various reasons: sometimes I was busy at the moment and wanted to buy myself a couple of days waiting for the reminder to appear in my inbox, other times I did not sense the group was going to help carry the water on the issue so I first wanted to check their engagement level, and still other times I genuinely needed more information to make a sound decision or run it up the flagpole. Whatever the reason, as one person with a limited number of hours in the day to work on only so many important issues, tasking the FUP is a popular way for staff to let the cream naturally rise to the top.

A concerning part of the survey was that 75 percent of staff also reported that less than half of all groups FUPed within one week of the meeting. That means not even half of groups sent a thank you note within a week to someone who took the time to meet. That is not an effective way to build relationships or advocate for a cause.

We can complain all we want about slow government bureaucracy, however if our groups are not even doing the very simplest FUP of expressing thanks and sending relevant materials that were promised, are elected officials the only ones at fault for a lack of progress?

Alternatively, if the majority of groups are doing a poor job at following-up in support of their cause, it presents a huge opportunity for engaged groups to capitalize on getting noticed and move the needle.

FUPs are an important and natural way to improve relationships and gain trust – and they are easily done. After sending the original thank you FUP, consider marking the calendar to FUP a month later by sending a relevant article to the staff person to keep the issue in the forefront. Continue FUPing until you sense you should not. Most often, the advocate and the issue will be better off because of such tenacity and customer service.

FUPs demonstrate a person is engaged, cares about outcomes, and is willing to pound the pavement on the issue. Start marking your calendar with FUPs today and a positive outcome will be noticed soon.

Two Words that Must be Said: Thank You

March 16, 2017

THANK YOU. Two simple words, yet too often we find them too difficult to say, or worse, we do not think about saying them. In fact, the only words some might deem harder to utter are “I’m sorry.”

In an informal survey 1492 Communications conducted of dozens of Capitol Hill offices, 50 percent of respondents said they received a thank you note from less than half of groups after a meeting. Of the thank you notes received, the majority were by email. It is also worth noting that a couple staff did not care about receiving a note, while for others, the groups that sent a sincere, handwritten thank you note were remembered best; several staff mentioned keeping those notes and/or displaying them at their desk. (A nice note can be reread – a memory of a conversation often fades over time – and an email deleted).

From an advocacy standpoint, sending a timely thank you note – whether by email or handwritten (or both, depending on timeframes) – is good business. It reminds the staff person of the group and its issue. It is also important for follow-up (the topic of a future column). After all, a smart person would never interview for a job without sending a follow-up thank you note to the interviewer. Advocacy is no different.

From a decent human being standpoint, saying “thank you” to someone who made time to meet is simply the right thing to do. Ergo, make the note heartfelt, not bureaucratic or perfunctory.

Holding fast that taxpayer dollars pay the salaries of elected officials and their staff, thereby granting a person a pass on needing to say “thanks,” is as shortsighted as believing that a parent never needs to thank his child for something because he gave the child life.

Yes, a person chooses to serve in public office, which might entitle him to some job perks, however, public service can often be a thankless job.

So send thank you notes. Notes never go out of style and are never too late to send. For the record, not having a card or stamp is a poor excuse. Getting a card, stamp, and address is far easier than moving legislation, or most other things in life, so buy a box of thank you notes, a book of stamps and keep them together in a drawer for easy access.

When writing the note, even consider taking it up a notch by adding in a specific explanation to the thanks, such as “you doing XYZ is allowing for XYZ.” Or, “our talk really left an impression on me and how I want to serve in the future.” Demonstrate recognition for the time spent together, as well as the work or impact. And if you really want to ensure the official sees the note, also mention the name of the staff person who did great work (but only if he really did great work).

Here is the secret: if we make expressing thanks part of our daily life by putting down our phone to thank the clerk checking us out at the store, by politely waving at the car who let us in the lane or being the car to let someone in our lane, and by wishing the building staff a nice day – it becomes only natural to say “thank you” for a meeting where someone took the time to listen to a group’s advocacy efforts.

Many of us are currently giving up things in sacrifice for Lent. Why not also use this time to make a more diligent effort to actively change behavior? Or, if it must be thought about in terms of giving up – give up ingratitude. Give up taking things or people for granted. Give up rushing to the next task before expressing thanks for the first one. Let us make a more conscious effort to give thanks year-round, not just during the holiday season.

We can start by giving thanks for living in the United States. Regardless of our elected leaders or progress moving our advocacy issues, compared to the majority of other people on our planet, we won the lottery by being born here.

THANK YOU for reading!


What Isn’t Being Said?

We spend a lot of time thinking about what we will SAY in meetings with elected officials.  We want our message and our ask to be perfect.

However, we should also take note of what we DO in meetings, through our nonverbal messages.  This includes all the cues we send without ever uttering one word, such as our body language and appearance.

Somewhere between 65-90 percent of meaning comes from the nonverbal messages we use to communicate in face-to-face interactions, according to research.  Which means that we are always communicating a message.  Furthermore, research also suggests that nonverbal messages are believed more than verbal messages as they are a more natural reflection of our true feelings.  If that is hard to believe, try eating several bites of a disgusting food while telling dinner companions it is most delicious – see if words or expressions make the more compelling argument for them to try the food.  Therefore, for a message to be heard and believed, the nonverbal messages must align with the verbal message.

There are many practical ways an advocate can put this into practice during a meeting and questions to ask himself to help review personal nonverbal behaviors.  It is also good to be aware of the nonverbal cues the official may be sending.

To start, a firm handshake with solid eye contact and a smile makes an important first impression.  A good appearance is also critical.  This does not mean an advocate meeting with an official must be in a suit, however he should be dressed for the part, whether that is wearing a uniform, a company shirt, or something else that is clean and appropriate.

Sit close, but not too close.  Is the person uncomfortable with the proximity?  Are they straining to hear?

Maintain good and alert posture.  Are we sitting up straight or are we slouched down looking as if we preferred to be elsewhere?  Are we fidgeting in our seat?  Is the orientation of our body direct or indirect?  Does the official look to be trying to get up?

Be engaged in the meeting.  Are we making eye contact with the meeting host or are we distracted by the phone? Are we taking notes or does it seem like our mind is wandering elsewhere?  Are we leaning in the right amount to listen more closely?  Are we nodding (but not becoming a bobble head) when the official states something agreeable?

Gestures should be made with purpose and be respectful to any cultural barriers.  Does the gesture convey helpful meaning to the topic at hand?  Is it visible or being done under the table?  Is the official looking at her watch?

Convey true emotions through facial expressions.  Are our expressions suggesting something contrary to the verbal message?

Eliminate distracting habits.  Are we subconsciously making disrupting noises, such as tapping or clicking a pen?  Do we have other habits that we are unaware we are doing that perhaps our colleagues have noticed in meetings?

Touch appropriately.  Not everyone likes to be touched and behavior that seems innocent to one person can be too intimate for another.  Behavior that works in public may not work in private.  Are we taking cues from the host on whether another handshake, hug, or high-five is fitting when leaving?  Are we sensitive to our physical proximity to the other person as we depart?  Are we making eye contact and smiling as we leave, even if we did not get what we asked (remember, advocacy is about the long game)?

Nonverbal messages play a critical role in our encounters with others and how we are perceived.  A good advocate must closely pay attention to his verbal and nonverbal messages, as well as those messages being given by the official.

If an advocate has a strong verbal message supported by accurate nonverbal messages, an official is more likely to positively interpret the need and message, leading to more encouraging outcomes.

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


New year, new offices, new beginnings

January 19, 2017

Happy New Year!  Tomorrow, January 20th, begins a new presidential administration and with it will come many new beginnings.  We cannot plan for or expect government to be “business as usual” because in a strange irony, America elected a businessman, not a politician, to be the leader of the free world.

Like any transition, there will be growing pains.  There will be changes – some more noticeable than others.  And this inauguration, there will be a larger shake-up of the status quo, per the electorate. Additionally, earlier this month, Senators and Representatives were sworn into office for the start of a new Congress.  Each comes to D.C. with a sense of purpose and hopes to make a difference. As voters and advocates, we do not need to agree with any or all the positions these officials take, however we should always respect the office they hold in representing our one nation under God.

If an advocate has not already, now is the time to get organized for the year, including updating contact information.  For example, many Wisconsin officials in Washington, D.C., have new office addresses, including: Representatives Duffy (2330 Rayburn), Gallagher (1007 Longworth), Grothman (1217 Longworth), and Pocan (1421 Longworth).  Telephone numbers and email addresses remain the same.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that as a new Congress begins, the scoreboard returns to zero as the restart button is pushed.  Legislation that was introduced or was moving last year is back to square one.  Now is the time for making known any needed edits to legislation that will be reintroduced, updating materials, reconnecting with allies, or beginning the advocacy push again. Now is also a good time to think about specifics.  Saying “We need healthcare prices to decrease” is not as helpful as providing good examples of ways to potentially achieve this.

As new staff members join offices, it is also a great time for a group or business to make an introduction, explain its presence in the district, and how it can help the office – without making a formal ask. A new session offers a fresh start.  If a group has not reached across the aisle before, or needs to make amends, there is no time like the present to extend the olive branch.

Finally, let us not forget patience and understanding as new officials and new staff are finding their way – we were all new at our jobs once and mistakes are not only bound to happen, but to error is human.  The important thing is forgiving and working to move forward, because we all sink or swim together.


Advantageous Advocacy: 2016 Top Ten Tips in Review

December 16, 2016

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:  Happy holidays and looking forward to a great year of advocacy in 2017.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

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.

Read the rest HERE.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Advantageous Advocacy: Faith, hope, love and Trump

Eight years ago, I teared up on Election Night.  I had quit my job, moved to Iowa – where I knew no one – to spend five months living out of a cheap hotel room and working 18 hour days campaigning for John McCain to be the next president … and then we lost.

I did not understand how America could elect an inexperienced community organizer who, in my eyes, was a talented speaker lacking substance, over a wise, experienced war hero, to be the leader of the free world.  But, the people had spoken.  Democracy worked.  I turned off the news, took a breath and packed my office.

Life always provides winners and losers, and I had lost.  However, I knew the sun would still rise, and that even after campaigning against President-elect Barack Obama because he terrified me, I knew I was beyond privileged to live in the United States – the truest, most elite one percent.

Fast forward eight years, and in irony of all irony’s, on Election Day, I thought, “maybe Obama is not so bad.”  I did not agree with him on almost anything besides a March Madness bracket – but he seemed okay and a good dad.  However, democracy propels us forward.

The pendulum swung hard from “change we can believe in” to change.  Despite the most untraditional campaign, lack of political experience and an unapologizing biased media, people voted for now President-elect Donald Trump.

In the days since, I have read and heard countless comments aimed at Trump and Republicans and Democrats, that are far worse than anything Trump has said.  How does this make us any better?  He started it?  That is the example of civility we set for our children?  Hate – one.  Forgiveness – zero?

Yes, there are bad eggs on both sides who are using this election to act in horrible ways.  But that is exactly what they are – bad eggs.  (Trump was a registered Democrat from August 2001 to September 2009).

The majority of Trump supporters are no more racist and sexist than Hillary Clinton supporters are entitled and whiny losers.
Rather than spewing hate, labeling, or typecasting someone for their vote, we should concede that not all voters liked the choices and remember this in future elections.  For many, it was despite the candidate’s positions, not because of them: what was “less evil” based on personal ideology.  It was not as much racism as resentment – a resentment that grew into a Trump movement as the participation-ribbon, safe-space, no-feelings-left-behind political correctness bubble appeared to be permanently ballooning out of control.

Personally, I have worked in Washington politics for a decade and have experienced the “boys club” firsthand on numerous occasions.  I feared Washington moving backward.  I also know Republican women in the military who feared Clinton, because after Benghazi, she could not be trusted to have their back.

We all voted the way we thought best.  I accept Trump won, and I support him for four main reasons. First, “We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead,” as Clinton compellingly said in her concession speech.  Painful words to utter, yet true.

Campaigning is over and the reset button must be pressed.  No one is perfect, and few of us would like our life scrutinized like a presidential candidate.  In opening my mind, I acknowledged that Trump had a (pretty amazing) female in the top job – something many male leaders would never do.  His eldest daughter is clearly a strong, capable business woman.  This gives me faith.

Second, Trump said a lot of things on the campaign trail, but many will prove as likely as the numerous celebrities who said they would leave the country if he won.  Now that we have struck both sides of the pendulum, perhaps it will not be much longer before we return to the middle, stop tip-toeing around issues and hold honest discussions.  I have hope.

Third, Trump is the president-elect.  Come January 20th, 2017, he is the pilot of Plane America.  We all soar to new heights or crash and burn with him in the cockpit.  I want America to soar.  Before turning my back or passing harsh judgment on him as a person, I will let Trump take office and watch his actions that first 100 days.  When I do not agree, or I witness injustice, I am not going to light cars on fire, or punch people, nor will I wait four years for another election.  I will channel that emotion into having my voice be heard in a constructive way and speaking up for those who cannot.  Love of country.

If you recall, when Obama took office, many thought he oozed arrogance and an ego.  He also had darker hair.  The greatness of the office humbled him… and aged him.  Trump is clearly already recognizing the HUGGEEENESS of this position, and we should allow him the same moment we would want to truly begin to process the weight being placed on our shoulders.  I prefer my glass half-full and do believe he wants to do well by America.  Vice President-elect Mike Pence most certainly does.

Finally, let us not blame all our anger and the world’s problems on one person most of us have never met.  As the former First Lady Barbara Bush said, “Your success as a family…our success as a nation… depends not on what happens inside the White House, but on what happens inside your house.”

Decisions we make start with us.  Actions we take start with us.  In our house.  Not every four years, but every single day.  In all our words.  All our actions.  Our compassion for others.  No elected official, regardless of title, can instantly make our culture in America better – only we can do that by actively living faith, hope and love among each other every day.

Read it HERE.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Advantageous Advocacy: Just vote: No excuses

While at this point, some of us would rather have a colonoscopy, root canal, or even ALMOST a Vikings Super Bowl victory, than hear another word about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, voting for our elected officials is a privilege that we should not take for granted.

If anyone has been living under a rock, Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Every vote counts.  Every vote matters.  Nothing is for certain until the ballots are counted.

There is no excuse to not vote.

Too busy?  According to the A.C. Nielsen Company, the average American watches approximately five hours of television a day. Make the time to vote.  There are also options to vote early absentee in Wisconsin.

Not registered?  Wisconsin is one of only 10 states (and the District of Columbia) that offers same day voter registration, allowing a person to register right at the polls.  In Virginia, for example, a person would be out of luck to vote, if they were not registered by the middle of October.  Plus, a voter would need a valid excuse to vote early absentee, as well as a valid photo identification.

To read the rest click HERE.


Thursday, October 22, 2016

Advantageous Advocacy: Just hold your nose and vote!

As a child, I loved going to the voting booth with my dad – back when there were levers to pull for candidates.  When I reached voting age, I practically skipped to the polls to cast my ballot and wore my “I Voted” sticker with pride all day.  This cycle, I am genuinely worried I may be sick on my way to or from my polling place, but I will still vote.

America spoke.  These are our nominated party candidates.  To not vote is squandering a privilege others long to hold.  To not vote is a vote: a vote in support of everything a person opposes because he did nothing to change the outcome.

Although many people, myself included, are disheartened by the top of the ticket selections, we must still show up on November 8.

Votes matter.  We cannot assume anything and should not take anything for granted.  Nothing is certain until the ballots are counted.

But how to decide when the two front-runners hold the lowest favorability ratings ever in a presidential cycle?  The Washington Post recently researched what voters do when they consider every option bad and found that people tend to vote by rejecting the choices they do not like, instead of affirmatively choosing the one they dislike the least.  Whatever works for the voter mindset …



Thursday, October 6, 2016

Advantageous Advocacy: Congressional ABC’s and 123’s

As Congress is in recess until the November election, now is a great time to catch-up on some homework. By homework, I mean the Congressional version of ABC’s and 123’s, such as knowing bill sponsors and numbers, and preparing one-pagers.
Before any meeting or contacting an elected official, it is critical to do the necessary homework to ensure advocates position themselves in the best light and are viewed as a trustworthy source. Some items seem really simple, but they are often overlooked by groups. As a result, the group loses some credibility. For instance, I cannot even count the number of times a group lobbied my office on a piece of legislation without knowing the actual bill number. In my informal survey of Hill staff, this occurrence was common throughout their meetings as well. In corporate America, this would be like not having cost estimates for a project, or in the classroom, the teacher not knowing what chapter the class was on.
It is important to remember that while a group may eat, sleep and breathe that one specific bill, Members of Congress and staff deal with more than 10,000 pieces of legislation that are introduced into Congress each session. To ensure the member and staff are aware of the correct legislation, make sure they have the bill specifics: a group advocating in support or opposition of a bill should always provide the bill name, number, and sponsor.



Thursday, September 22, 2016

Advantageous Advocacy: Getting Your Goat: Meeting Pet Peeves

Nails on the chalkboard. Cracking knuckles. Constant pen clicking. Each of these noises can highly annoy someone – even on a good day.

Advocates can also give their meeting hosts that same highly annoyed feeling – not through noises – but by making some common meeting mistakes – mistakes advocates often don’t know they are making. Staff may not directly indicate their pet peeves, however, they may be rolling their eyes on the inside, subtly looking at their watch, or making a mental note to not take an advocate’s next meeting request – or certainly not schedule it with the boss.

Based on my own experiences, and an informal survey of staff, some common meeting pet peeves include:

Calling the official by his first name. It is great that an advocate donated money, campaigned for the official, went to grade school with him, attends the same church, or has known his buddy for a decade, however, if an advocate is meeting in the official’s office where the official holds a title that he worked hard to earn – an advocate should be respectful and use that title, whether the official is present or not.

Speaking of names, incessant name dropping. Staff get it, advocates want them to think they are important and know everyone, etc., however if name dropping is the method of choice to make that known, no staff person is being wowed. Focus on being prepared, organized and having a worthwhile ask.

Being on the phone. A staff person or official cannot tell if a person is taking notes, reading the meeting agenda, or watching a video stream of his dog at home. Worse, sometimes they can directly see someone scrolling through Facebook. Avoid this by going old school and using pen and paper to demonstrate the meeting is important, time is valued, and the advocate is actively engaged and listening.



Thursday, September 8, 2016

Advantageous Advocacy: Oh, September!

Congress does two things well, nothing and overreact … or so it has been said. Between summer recess and the need to fund the government before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1, August and September are prime examples of this half-joking statement.

Earlier this week, Congress returned to session after its seven-week summer recess. The main tasks before it are to keep the government open (i.e. funded), and pass some type of Zika funding. The next few September weeks will likely entail some drama and plenty of ever-changing predictions as to when and how these tasks will be completed – and at what cost in financial and political capital. The sooner all that concludes, the sooner members can return home to campaign.

Needless to say, officials in Washington are polarized, unpopular and nervous about the November election.

Their minds are on the tasks right before them, possibly doing some posturing for a media hit, and little else. They want to get home as quickly as possible to protect their jobs. Now, before we are too quick to judge, how laser-focused would our minds be if our jobs were on the line – especially if we still had personal goals we wanted to achieve in those jobs!?



Thursday, August 25, 2016

Advantageous Advocacy: How do you August?

Some staff in Washington, D.C. live for August recess (or the “August work period” as others call it). No joke. Members return to their states and districts for the month, votes are put off until September, and the entire city slows down – partially from the extreme heat, but mostly from a break in the action.

Staff often find themselves taking a much-needed and well-earned vacation. However, although the voting comes to a halt, the work does not. Ergo, advocacy efforts should not halt either.

Is a group using the August recess to advance its cause? How can a group make good use of the downtime?

Visit with staff. Even though some people are traveling some of the time, the offices are still open. Take the time to catch-up with staff members and introduce yourself to new staff. August is far more casual and laid back in Washington, which means staff may be able to have a more natural conversation, instead of rushing through the issues. Plus, since it is a more casual work period, the dress attire can be a little more casual too, i.e. men can likely forgo the ties. If a group will not physically be in D.C. in August, leave a voicemail or send an email with an update the staff member may be interested in.

Read the rest HERE.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Advantageous Advocacy: He’s Just Not That Into You

I will call you!

Sure he will.  Sometimes advocacy is just like dating.  Sometimes a person needs to tune into when she is being politely rejected.

It is not you, it is me.

Much like a guy who fears intimacy, this is also often true in advocacy.  It really is not personal; it is perhaps just a poor connection or bad timing.

The last Advantageous Advocacy column discussed the importance of listening and using two ears and one mouth in proportion.  There is even more credence to really listening to what is NOT being said.

How often do people like giving “bad” news?  Based on the statistics of people who no longer properly RSVP to an event, some people do not like to say no, offer rejection, or take a pass – ever – for fear of being the bad guy or disappointing someone (writer note: many hosts just want the courtesy of a reply for a proper food headcount).

Logic would then tell us that if a person’s job is dependent on our vote, he may not always provide an outright no.  He may play hard to get or string us along… give us hope when he has little or no intention of committing.  It is the reality of the beast.  If we are listening to what he is saying and paying attention to how he says it, advocates can gain the best comprehension (or in party terms, he did not RSVP, so he is probably not coming).

Perhaps there is not money in the budget.  Perhaps an opponent has taken up the cause more passionately.  Perhaps the official is just not interested in the topic.  Or, perhaps the office needs more education on the cause over time.  There are a plethora of reasons why an office may not jump on an issue, regardless of an advocate’s credentials, passion, finances, or anything else.



Thursday, July 28, 2016

Advantageous Advocacy: LISTEN UP!

It has been said that a person has two ears and one mouth, and should use them in proportion. True in relationships. True at work. True in advocacy.

On occasion, a lobbyist would enter my office and be distracted by her phone throughout the meeting. My impression was not, “WOW, this woman is an amazing multi-tasker.” I did not find her to be extremely important because of her “busy-ness.” I also did not reason my comments were not welcomed, since she requested the meeting. I DID, however, think that while she may hold good intentions, if she is not fully listening, she is not worth much of my time.

Other days, groups would come into my office and I would ask how a meeting on the Hill went with the member of Congress. They would tell me, “It was great! He is totally on board. He said, ‘I’m so glad you brought this to my attention.’”

I would smile and ask, “Wait, what else did he say? What you just told me is not actually agreement. That’s a polite response to acknowledge your presence.”

Then I would receive dumbfounded stares. Advocacy must include listening for what is being said, not what a person seeks to hear.

“I’m so glad you brought this to my attention.”

“Thank you so much, I will look into this.”

“This is really helpful information, I’m glad you came in.”

None of these statements convey support, a yes, or agreement to a cause. It is easy to misinterpret words if we are not completely listening to what is actually being said. Listening requires being humble enough to focus 100 percent on someone else. It means placing everything else out of mind. It means letting go of preconceived ideas and putting oneself in the speaker’s shoes to best understand that perspective.



Advantageous Advocacy: Four for Before

July 14, 2016

By Wendy Riemann

A great deal of preparation should be completed before a person ever steps foot inside an elected official’s office to advocate.  As Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Honest Abe was also wise.  Being prepared makes a meeting more efficient, impactful, and beneficial to the cause.  While we do not need to spend four hours sharpening our axe for a meeting (hopefully), we can better prepare for a meeting with an elected official, or his staff, in four simple ways.

First, always do the homework.  It is worth spending some time researching who the group is meeting with and his background and priorities.  This is true even if a group is “just” meeting with staff, as the staff are there to represent their boss.  Visiting the official’s government webpage will usually provide a photo, biography, and information about what committees the official serves on and issues he champions.  A review of the news/press releases he has recently issued – almost always found on his webpage – will also provide insight as to what the office values and is currently finding important.


Advantageous Advocacy: Five tips for a good meeting on Capitol Hill

June 23, 2016

By Wendy Riemann

On more than one occasion, I have been asked the secret behind a good Capitol Hill meeting. We may think politics is some foreign land with a unique language, but in many instances visiting the office of an elected official for a meeting is no different than a meeting in your own office. If there is a passion and an interest, do not get bogged down worrying about every political detail, committee meeting, or vote. The important things are remembering the reason for the meeting, researching the message to be heard, and being a articulate messenger. With that said, here are five tips to keep in mind when preparing for a meeting on the Hill. — One, for most Hill meetings, discussing two or three issues is about the max. This changes when a group is doing its annual fly-in when members cover a host of issues. However, the average person coming in to advocate should stick with only a couple of issues per meeting. — Two, the more district-specific information provided, the better. At the end of the day, an official is held accountable by the people of his district who vote, so relevant information is always helpful.


Advantageous Advocacy: Developing Deeper, More Meaningful Relationships

June 9, 2016

By Wendy Riemann

The word “networking” has always bothered me. Living in Washington, D.C., networking often seems more like sport. It is aggressive, full-contact, and people want the W. At many receptions, I have often thought it should be called “net-gaming,” because so many people treat it like an athletic competition.

It is a running joke in the DC area that the first question people ask someone new is “What do you do?” so they can decide if it is even worth learning their name, or move on to the next person they are already noticing over the first person’s shoulder.

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. Yes, there is something to life being a numbers game, especially in a big city where even knowing someone slightly can help place a resume in front of the right person. However, what is often overlooked in the networking game is actually developing some of that network into a genuine relationship – yes, a real friend – someone who is trustworthy, genuine, and giving.

A good egg is a good egg, regardless of his title or job. In the age of virtual relationships, that real relationship can mean far more, both personally and professionally.

Think more Vanguard, less Pay Day Loan.  Read the rest HERE.

Advantageous Advocacy: The Crux of Advocacy

May 26, 2016

By Wendy Riemann

On more than one occasion, I have heard that “I am just a small business owner,” or “I can’t afford a lobbyist,” or “I don’t donate enough to have my voice heard by an official.”

But you can still engage in legislative advocacy.

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.

To put that another way, we elect officials to represent us. How can they represent us if constituents are not willing to share their thoughts, ideas and knowledge?  Read the rest HERE.

Advantageous Advocacy: Seeing RED

May 12, 2016

By Wendy Riemann

In a campaign year, as the votes are being tallied, the blue on the election map represents Democratic states and the red, Republican states. In a successful advocacy campaign, groups should be thinking about what I call RED in developing their message and tactics to present to an elected official.


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 a representative or senator, decides the vote.  READ THE REST HERE.


Advantageous Advocacy: Keep it simple

April 28, 2016

By Wendy Riemann

The Netflix series “Making a Murderer” has captured the attention of millions of people.  However, I know few individuals who would want to start that 10-episode series, or any series, on episode number four. Knowing how it all begins and understanding the basic framework is crucial.

The same methods are true on Capitol Hill. 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 know nothing about the topic at hand. So, start at the very beginning.

While a group’s issue may be the most important thing in the world from its perspective, and it may even be atop the news, it may also be unfamiliar to a busy staff person trying to juggle a plethora of policy issues.  READ MORE HERE.

Advantageous Advocacy: Honor the lifelines

April 14, 2016

By Wendy Riemann

They are the gatekeepers, the confidantes, and the lifelines.

Out of all the people who serve in a government office, the assistants are some of the most cherished. If a lobbyist undervalues them because they answer the phone, that office visitor is woefully mistaken.

An executive assistant is the essential lifeline for any leader.

Assistants are confidantes whom principals rely on for nearly everything. A lobbyist may have gone to school with the leader, donates to a leader’s campaign, or even regularly socializes with the leader for a drink at happy hour. But the assistant knows the leader’s daily habits, the home district schedule, and the mood that day. The assistant plays a crucial role in making a leader’s day run smoother by putting out fires and keeping to the schedule so the leader can make a kid’s game. Sometimes the assistant becomes an essential sounding board.

As one leader told me, “You can take a shot at me, and I’ll get over it. But don’t EVER take a shot at my assistant, or I will not let you back into the office.”READ THE REST HERE.


Advantageous Advocacy: Neither over nor off with their heads

March 31, 2016

By Wendy Riemann

The hot-headed queen in Alice in Wonderland was quick to yell “off with their heads” when she was upset. Hot-headed lobbyists, or those with large egos, will sometimes attempt the same approach with a government staff person because they are not getting their way, or not getting it fast enough. It seldom works.

Apart from the rare instance of unprofessional behavior from a staff member, complaining to an official or trying to go over a staff person’s head, is far more likely to damage a lobbyist’s reputation.

In one performance review, my boss at the time said that in three years he could only remember one complaint about me. I gave him a do-tell look and he did. I then laughed and said, “Oh yes, that’s the guy who wanted [ridiculous request on top of ridiculous request], and I told him no.”  READ THE REST HERE.


Advantageous Advocacy: All About the Benjamins

March 17, 2016

By: Wendy Riemann

On an average day, a government leader, as well as their staff, might meet with a Fortune 500 CEO, a disabled child, an environmental group, a local mayor, a business group from their district, and others. They hear a lot of messages on many different issues from various constituents. As constituents begin each meeting, some make a fairly common, but costly, mistake. It is one of the biggest DON’Ts in terms of getting positive results for a cause. In fact, in some offices, it can completely backfire and get a constituent less help, not more. What is this taboo?  CLICK HERE TO READ MORE.


Advantageous Advocacy: Agree to Disagree

March 3, 2016

By Wendy Riemann

A funny cartoon in The New Yorker last week featured two siblings yelling at each other, “You’re a big, fat liar.” “No, you’re a big fat liar!” With the mom telling the dad, “You’re the one who said, ‘Let them watch the debates, it will be educational.'”

When we feel passionately about a topic, we can easily succumb to our emotions.  It is why some families avoid discussing politics at the holiday table and why some Facebook friends won’t engage in conversations about social issues online.

Groups traveling to the nation’s capital to advocate for their cause are often filled with great energy and inspiring passion. They researched an issue and solutions, and are eager to bring about positive change.

Meeting with a staff person who does not share the group’s opinion can be disheartening. Yet, as infuriating as that may be, and regardless of how right group members think they are, or how much someone pays in taxes, it is NOT appropriate to yell in a meeting.  READ THE REST HERE.


Advantageous Advocacy: Respecting Time

February 18, 2016

By Wendy Riemann

Thomas Edison once said, “Time is really the only capital that any human being has, and the only thing he can’t afford to lose.”

Most elected officials and government appointees would probably agree.

Time is a precious commodity, particularly in government service. Wasting it is neither appreciated nor easily forgotten.  From the moment many officials step into their office (and sometimes before) until they leave, they often are booked solid.  If they have a great scheduler, they may get to eat lunch and take a few bathroom breaks on lighter days!

Officials and appointees often do their reading, writing, genuine thinking, and “real work” outside of normal business hours, because it is uninterrupted.  READ THE REST HERE.


Advantageous Advocacy: Honesty is the Best Policy

February 4, 2016

By Wendy Riemann

WASHINGTON, DC — Honesty is the best policy… really. At home. At work.

When advocating. Whether it’s an outright lie, a lie by omission, a lie because you didn’t do your homework, or a lie of plausible deniability, where you think the onus should be on the government worker to ultimately fact-check you – it is usually found out – and will sink your efforts.

Little secret: many government offices talk — even across party lines — especially in Wisconsin offices where that whole “Midwestern Nice” thing is legit. Staff members form an informal, bipartisan club of sorts and frequently exchange information and questions. While partisan-based anger may be the prevailing attitude across the country right now, most staff, on both sides of the aisle are still diplomatic public servants eager to get the job done and get it done right.

Once a lobbyist came in to see me on behalf of a cause and swore a certain member of Congress was supportive – even said that representative was absolutely endorsing it at an upcoming hearing. My gut told me the lobbyist’s issue and the member’s position were probably not on the same page.  READ THE REST HERE.


Advantageous Advocacy: An introduction

January 21, 2016

By Wendy Riemann

WASHINGTON, DC — “We gave the Hill our bill language during our fly-in last year, and the Representative introduced it, so why isn’t it law yet,” the leader of the group asked me in genuine frustration.

The leader did not realize that in the 113th Congress, January 3, 2013 – January 2, 2015, a total of 10,637 bills and resolutions were introduced, and only 296, or a mere 3 percent, were enacted into law, according to GovTrack.  In the 114th Congress, starting January 6, 2015 until January 15, 2016, a total of 7,993 bills and resolutions had been introduced, with 115, or 1 percent, enacted into law.  As the Schoolhouse Rock video, “I’m Just a Bill,” reminds us, the vast majority of bills introduced in Congress never even get a committee hearing, let alone actually become law.  READ THE REST HERE.