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BY DAVID REHR, PHD I 06/14/12
The country’s 72,000 trade associations are responsible for much of the $16.4 billion spent over the past five years to influence the U.S. Congress. Annually, association boards approve significant government realations budgets to advance their legislative priorities on Capitol Hill. Associations also have bolstered their budgets to include advocacy at the state and regional level, acknowledging that success with members of Congress now includes swaying the opinions of their constituents. But with all this focus on affecting outcomes on Capitol Hill, there is one elusive key piece for ultimate success: knowing what works and what doesn’t.
Well, the wait is over. On June 12, the Congressional Communications Report was released. The report is designed to help associations better understand the complex environment on Capitol Hill and what Congress looks for from association government relations experts. More than 700 congressional staff and nearly 2,300 lobbyists participated in the survey – the largest sample to date.
The report is a partnership of the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) at George Washington University and The Original U.S. Congress Handbook and Lobbyists.info, published by Columbia Books and Information Services. ORI, a market research company based in Reston, Va., ensured the report meets the highest statistical and methodological standards.
The goals of the study included:
1. To better understand how individuals communicate with Capitol Hill;
2. To determine what influences congressional decision-making; what tools are more/less effective in influencing decisions;
3. To better understand a “typical day” of a congressional staffer, focusing on how information is learned and what outlets provide information.
4. To see areas of commonality and divergence between Hill staff and the lobbying community.
5. To provide some research into advocacy so individuals/groups can be more effective in their effort to impact Congress.
The survey seeks to answer questions like:
– The best ways to contact members of Congress and their staffs
– How changes in Hill demographics have shifted perspective, and what common practices can now be a waste of resources
– What factors determine who gets access to members of Congress or Hill staff
– What Hill staff expect from lobbyists
– How staffers prefer to learn about issues
– What lobbying tactics get results
– Which congressional staffers are engaged in social media
– What happens to a congressional staffer on a typical day; and
– What types of media staffers prefer to hear, read and see.
Seeing the early ‘“op line” results are exciting, but the crosstabs will yield important data that will help associations better understand the influence business and sharpen their government relations tools to be more effective.
Among the ‘top line’ results are effective ways to communicate between lobbyists and Hill staff (Charts 1 and 2) and type of phone most popular among Hill staff and lobbyists. Also, what Hill staffers think of interest group websites and “key vote” campaigns.
One take-away for association leaders and government relations teams: attachments in emails to congressional staff should not take a long time to download. Staffers don’t have the time (and may not have patience) to wait. So leave out pictures and graphics that don’t get to the point. The time congressional staff can spend on communications is more limited than ever before.
Rehr is the former CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Beer Wholesalers Association. He is an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University. Contact him at email@example.com.
For details and preorders, go to www.congressionalcommunicationsreport.com.
National Journal: Survey Indicates Lobbyists May Need to Rethink Tactics
In the Capital: Lobbyists to Hill Staffers: Call Me Maybe?, Hill Staffers: No