Communicating with elected officials is like a nice charcuterie platter. There are many possible options and if done right the result will be fantastic. Here is the best recipe for effective communication with elected officials.
A calm demeanor
A one page bulleted list
Prep Time: 10-30 minutes. Cook Time: 30 seconds to 10 minutes. Ready: Whenever you need it.
When reaching out to your elected officials, whether they be legislators, councilors, commissioners or any other office, the recipe is the same. You have a message you need to get to get out and they need to be able to receive it.
The first thing you need to do is get your facts gathered. Research your issue. Know your “talking points”. If you can, know both sides of the issue. It is very important to know whether your audience is a Senator, Representative, Commissioner, Councilor, Mayor, etc… Use their correct title when addressing them, even if you know them. If you don’t know their title, use sir or ma’am. It is a sign you respect their office.
The next thing is to determine the best way to get your message in front of the elected official. Phone, mail or email may be the only way to reach the official but, if you can meet with the official in person, I believe that is the most effective, impactful way to communicate. Invite the legislator, councilor or commissioner into your establishment or to a gathering of similarly situated colleagues. Show them around, then sit with them and patiently tell them the issue, why you support or oppose the issue and why you believe they should support or oppose the issue. Have a conversation with them. Use plain English, leave the fancy words in the walk in. Be truthful. Give them enough information to explain your point, but not soooo much that you lose their interest.
Another great point to get across is to let the influencer know how many people are impacted by this issue. Elected officials want to know how many others are in the frying pan with you. Let them know how the people upstream and downstream from you are impacted by the issue. How might this impact your patrons or your suppliers?
Sometimes you only have thirty seconds to one minute. The higher up the official is in the hierarchy the shorter the time you have with them. The quick recipe is to have an elevator speech ready. In very few words tell them what the issue is, if you support or oppose it and briefly tell why. Also let the influencer know how to get a hold of you if they need more information.
Whenever possible meet with staff prior to meeting with the elected official. They can be your biggest ally. They will remember your points and can remind the elected official at the right time. After your meeting with the elected official leave a one sheet of paper with bullet points with staff.
Use honey, not vinegar. Nobody likes receiving communication that threatens, or gives false information. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to tell the truth and to be civil, courteous and professional. I have seen lobbyists or members of the public tell influencers that they are going to “go after them” if they don’t vote the way they want them to. I have seen these same influencers shut down, dig in their heels and not want to communicate with the “bully”.
The same basic rules apply if you communicate via email, snail mail or telephone. Be short, sweet and to the point.
When I ask legislators what tips the scales for them, the thoughtful ones tell me that they weigh the facts. They look at how the issue impacts their constituency. The really thoughtful ones will look at how the policy impacts the state as a whole, not just their district.
“If your facts are correct, then the issue should stand on its own,” Senator Ron Griggs of Alamorgordo told me. “If you try to push one thing or another you may leave something out, or add something that should not be added.”
It is up to us when we talk to influencers that we keep the discussion on the issue, on the facts, and show them what the impact will be on you. We may not have all of the facts on an issue. You may be asked a question you do not have an answer for, and that is okay. Just remember to let the influencer know you will get back to them, or their staff, with the answer to their question. Stay away from trying to answer something when you don’t know. Close your communication with them by dropping them a short, hand written, note thanking them for their time.
If you do all or some of the parts of this recipe, you will have a product that tastes great and is good for you, too!
Interested in learning more or have questions? Carol Wight, CEO of NMRA is here to help you tackle political advocacy! Feel free to email Carol or call her at 505-343-9848. Visit our website for more blogs and information.
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