Written by Nicholas Johns
Director of Strategy, CDS
Published by Unfold, Aug. 9th 2016
These tips are meant to be some key rules of thumb for people aspiring to work in, or who are just starting out in, the exciting and rewarding field of government relations. Cheers to your career on K Street!
1. Know Your Goals
When you finally get that meeting with the Member of Congress or staffer who you’ve been trying to lock down for what seems like forever, your job isn’t done yet. You need to prepare for the meeting, knowing in advance what your major ‘asks’ are, whether it is co-sponsoring legislation, supporting a bill, or joining a caucus. As a corollary to that, you must absolutely know your organization’s policy positions, inside and out, and expect questions. Practice before hand if you need to. Nothing turns off a busy MoC or staffer more than someone who wastes their time.
2. Stay On Message
During your meeting, something might go astray. Someone may ask you a question you don’t know the answer to, you may meet a rude member/staffer, or the constituent you brought to the meeting may go on a tangent. Regardless, it’s your job to be calm and redirect the conversation to your policy points. If you don’t know the answer to the question, let the person know you’ll check with your organization and get them the details ASAP. Take it as the perfect chance to follow up and show your follow through. If it’s a constituent, look for a chance to bring the conversation back to earth (and your ask/policy points). Whatever you do, you want to maintain a cool head and a positive attitude.
3. Know The Setting
If you work for a lobbying organization, chances are you will have the opportunity to attend many different events, including Hill events, happy hours, client dinners and even the occasional gala. You should always be cognizant of what setting you’re in and behave accordingly. For instance, if you’re in a Hill meeting, you should probably stick directly to your policy points and stray very little into personal matters. Conversely, if you’re attending an informal happy hour/reception, the ratio should be tilted the other way. Social events are a great way to meet new friends and contacts, and business generally should be secondary at that stage. The same goes for your attire. You don’t want your outfit to be a distraction to either yourself or with whomever you are networking. When in doubt, business/office attire is a safe bet, while more casual options may be appropriate when Congress is out of session.
4. Put Numbers On The Board
Your organization is in a panic. It looks like the legislative masterpiece your team has been working on for months is going to get shot down. What do you do in this situation? Is it time to fold up shop and move to Estonia? Probably not. This is why it’s important to keep running tabs on legislation or other options that still affect your stakeholders/clients/members. If you can substantively demonstrate you’ve been working hard on your main priorities then one setback will likely not sink your relationship with stakeholders. For instance, if your big tax cut bill goes belly-up, then maybe your work on repealing a smaller provision of the tax code through other means can get the spotlight. Small wins are always better than nothing.