The passing of Labor Day signals the unofficial end to summer and a recommitment to the work we neglected over the last three months while vacationing and shuttling kids to baseball and summer camps. For state government affairs professionals, summer also meant spending a great deal of time traveling the country to attend the state and local officials Groups meetings in locations such as Louisville, Portland (Maine), San Diego, Toronto and even Whitefield, New Hampshire.
Attending these meetings is a big commitment of resources, and perhaps more important, your time. As you think back on the Group meetings you attended, did they help set the stage for a successful 2011? And, what value are you returning to your organization in exchange for all of those airline miles you accrued? Now is the perfect time to take stock of the Groups work you performed this summer.
All of your Groups participation should return tangible results to your organization or your advocacy efforts. If they do not, why are you attending the meetings? Your Groups relationship-building, messaging and advocacy should all be supporting your ground game (ie., your work in the state capitals). Continuity of your participation with the Groups and their constituents is important to any successful Groups program. Critical to that continuity is that follow-up you perform after, and in-between, the meetings.
Who did you add to your rolodex this summer? Who can you call upon during the busy legislative session season to help you? Even in the climate of increased travel restrictions on policymakers, the Groups meetings held this summer offered very good opportunities to begin building relationships with policymakers and staff, especially at the regional meetings where the travel challenges for policymakers are fewer. There are few better places than a Groups forum to identify and meet the “champions” for your issue or the upcoming advocacy campaigns – these like-minded policymakers are speaking at the issue panels and attending the policy sessions you care most about. Frequently, the Groups staff will help them find you.
You do not want to lose those connections you made, or the relationships you revisited at the meetings, even if they are now one or two months in the past. If you have not already done so, develop a plan to reconnect with these policymakers and stay in touch. Email them or call and ask how you can assist them. Most policymakers want to hear from you – you and your organization can represent a resource to them or provide expertise on an issue down the road. And remember that the best relationships are those made when you do not need one, and always before the busy session season starts.
Awareness Raising and Messaging
You managed to get your boss or one of your organization’s policy wonks on an issues panel at one of the larger legislative meetings, such as the NCSL Legislative Summit or ALEC Annual Meeting – so what now? The Groups meetings represent economical opportunities to educate and motivate policymakers and raise your organization’s profile. But thoughtful follow-up is necessary to ensure that the messaging from July still resonates through the chaos of the elections and the holidays. Contact those policymakers who attended the Groups meeting, or the specific issues panel, and provide them with regular updates to your messaging, news about your organization and other positive press. How to reach those policymakers? The Group whose meeting you attended has a registration list with contact information – ask them for it. Add these policymakers to your external distribution lists or create a “friends” list of like-minded policymakers with whom you want to regularly communicate – a list that will continue to grow as you add interested policymakers.
Your Policy Victories
Engaging the Groups policymaking processes and getting a “win” for your organization can be very satisfying. But it is unlikely to yield more than satisfaction unless you leverage that policy success. Groups’ policies are just that: policies, suggestions to their constituents or even options. They are not laws, nor are they regulations. The burden is now on you to ensure that the policymakers you target are made aware of that “included” piece of Suggested State Legislation, that favorable ALEC model law or the resolution from the recent ECOS meeting that you helped to shape. While the Groups routinely share their policymaking efforts with their own constituent members and state and federal colleagues, they are unlikely to promote it on your behalf. Again, the follow-up is critical. Integrate that policy success into your advocacy efforts, messaging and other preparation for 2011, especially if you engaged the Group to support state or federal advocacy efforts. Finally, take advantage of the policy success to support your relationship-building efforts within that Group and to enhance your organization’s profile among the policymakers you care most about.