How to Plan a Successful Advocacy Trip to Washington

(or, Who ELSE to See When You’re in DC)

While most Americans were taught in grade school that the three branches of government are legislative, executive and judicial, those of us who can measure our mileage along the city’s marble-floored corridors in triple digits know that getting something done in Washington, DC today requires working with three distinct NON-governmental sectors, as well. What we call the “three branches of advocacy” are 1) non-profit partners, 2) membership associations, and 3) consumer and trade media.

While the ultimate goal of Washington public affairs work may be to convince Congress or the Administration to take action on specific legislation or regulation, we’ve found success is far more likely if support comes from many different influencer channels. And the go-to sources for elected and appointment government leaders and their staffs are almost always think tanks, associations and media outlets.washingtoncapitol

So, any productive visit or “fly-in” to DC should include meetings to create, expand or maintain a network of these influencers, rather than just an old-school plan to knock on congressional or federal departmental doors.

Let’s use one of our clients as an example: when Parents as Teachers CEO Scott Hippert recently came to DC to advocate on behalf of his organization, we set up a whirlwind two-and-a-half-day meeting schedule, including sessions with each of the three branches of advocacy (in his case, those focused on early childhood education).

Drawing from both our existing network of contacts and reaching out to new ones, we set Scott up for meetings at think tanks such as the Appletree Institute for Early Childhood Education; associations such as The School Superintendents Association; and reporters from The Washington Post and Education Week.

As always, one of our immediate goals was to identify ways for our client and each meeting participant to work together. In some cases, a mutually beneficial “transaction” was identified, such as partnering on a grant proposal.

The success of this advocacy approach may not seem immediate, but it is far more reliable than Congressional meet-and-greets and often bears unexpected fruit: the meetings we set up for Scott Hippert led to serious grant funding discussions, an important speaking invitation and an offer from Early Childhood Research Quarterly to publish a case study of a successful Parents as Teachers affiliate program.

So while these three branches of advocacy may not have been envisioned by America’s founding fathers, they have firmly taken root in Washington and strategically planned DC fly-ins offer businesses and organizations valuable opportunities to cultivate relationships among them.