David Rehr is author of The Congressional Communications Report and has been listed as one of the nation’s top lobbyists. He is an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) at The George Washington University. David can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LAST WEDNESDAY, I was honored to participate in the Country Promotion Strategies Conference: a gathering of over 200 ambassadors and embassy personnel for a day of presentations on how to best maneuver Washington’s corridors of power.
While there, I shared with the crowd seven tips that foreign diplomats should consider when interacting with Congress.
The research below comes from The Congressional Communications Report (hereafter CCR), a landmark study on communication methods used by lobbyists in their dealings with congressional staff.
1. Provide credible information:
According to CCR, the most successful way to gain influence and access with congressmen and their staff is to provide credible information. At least this is what 46% of survey respondents thought, which is more than double the support given to the next most popular answers:
2. Have an existing relationship with members/staff (28%)
3. Have a reputation of seeking meetings (12%).
Neither brand nor money is at the top of the list. This indicates a playing field far more level than conventional wisdom would have it.
2. Use email:
This is the preferred method of contact with congressional staff. In fact, 67% of staff prefer email, while:
18% prefer the phone,
10% prefer meeting in person,
4% prefer mailed letters, and a paltry
0.1% prefer social media.
3. …and when you do use email, make it short and to the point:
Not just because this is easier for the recipient, but also because it’s easier for the phone. Mobile devices used on Capitol Hill are probably different from those used by your embassies. CCR shows that only 9% of Hill staff use iPhones, 2% use the Android, and a whopping 85% use Blackberry. The implication is that you need to minimize graphics, superfluous information, and anything that impedes the ability to click on your message. If it takes more than a couple of seconds to load, it will be deleted or skipped.
4. Stay in touch with the Congressional Research Service:
CCR shows that the Congressional Research Service (CRS) is the most valuable source of information for congressional staff. This is followed by:
2) Academic/issue experts
3) The Congressional Budget Office (CBO)
4) Other Capitol Hill Staffers
Embassies should therefore consistently review how their country is being portrayed by these sources. They should also consider how and where to make a positive impact.
5. Improve your position on Google:
While staff rated the CRS and issue experts the most valuable sources, their preferred sources were slightly different:
1) Internet Searches
3) Other Capitol Hill Staffers
4) Relevant Federal Agencies
This means embassies should be Googling their country’s name to see what comes up. Whatever is there will be the foundation of many a staffer’s judgments.
6. Understand what actually influences decisions:
CCR measured 16 different lobbying tools. Here are several to keep in mind:
1) Reliable and concise information
2) Constituent support
3) Hiring of former members of Congress
It is important to note that there are substantial differences between Republican and Democratic staff on which tools are most effective.
7. Be cognizant of a Hill staffer’s daily routine:
Everyone knows that Hill staffers are busy, and CCR certainly confirms that. The average staffer receives 134 emails daily, with only 18% reading all of them. Some other stats:
20% of Hill staff visit more than twenty websites daily
25% conduct more than 20 web searches daily
77% meet with two or less lobbyists daily
72% meet with two or less other Hill staffers daily
Click here for a full version of The Congressional Communications Report.