Congressional testimony tips from Seth Rogen

Last month, actor Seth Rogen testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee to ask for more research funding for Alzheimer’s disease. Organizations are well aware that star power sells and having a celebrity spokesperson can help bring attention to your cause. In fact, Ben Affleck was also on Capitol Hill that same day giving testimony. However, no one seemed to care because Rogen’s opening statement was the talk of Capitol Hill. In fact, two days after his appearance, CSPAN reported that video of Rogen’s testimony was their 3rd most watched video EVER. What lessons can associations learn from this experience?

1. You have to use the right member. Sure, Seth Rogen is a celebrity and celebrity = attention. However, celebrity does not guarantee that someone can articulate personal experiences and connect them to legislative requests. Heck, celebrity doesn’t even guarantee that someone can read. While your association may not have a Seth Rogen at their disposal, you do have members who are knowledgeable about the issues and can articulate them in a way that engage and inform.

2. Once you find the right member, prep them for the congressional experience. If you have watched the congressional hearing, you may have noticed that not all of the committee members were present. This did not sit well with Seth as he took to Twitter openly asking why this hearing was so poorly attended by members of Congress. In hindsight, I wished the organization he was working with would’ve filled him in on what a typical day on Capitol Hill is like. Wednesdays are usually the busiest day on the Hill. At any given moment, there are floor debates, hearings, meetings with constituents, and other activities occurring simultaneously. While it would be great for members of Congress to be present at every hearing, that’s just not possible. It doesn’t mean they don’t care. If anything, this presents a great opportunity for Seth and the advocacy organization to continue their congressional outreach.

3. Humor works. Seth Rogen is funny. Alzheimer’s is not. And yet, here was this comedic actor who was able to translate humor into an ask for more research dollars to fight the disease his mother-in-law is battling. A little levity when faced with these challenging issues is appreciated by those advocating for these issues as well as the legislators who are faced with making tough choices in a difficult economy.

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You are worthy

leading association lobbyist award

Last week, I was among the honorees of Association Trends’ 2014 Salute to Association Excellence. For those not familiar, the ceremony honors those who have contributed their time and talent to the association community. I was among 7 who received the 2013 Leading Association Lobbyists of the Year award. Normally, I’d try to downplay receiving such a distinguished honor. And then I remembered something my mom said to me recently. “You spent many years with your head in books and at the library. If someone wants to give you an award, don’t say no, say thank you.”

The Leading Association Lobbyists Award means a lot to me for a number of reasons. First, I was nominated for this award. Self nominations are not accepted. Second, I was among a group of association lobbyists doing exceptional work in the community. Finally, I finally saw in myself what others have been telling me for years: you are worthy.

Too often, we see ourselves as unworthy of awards and accolades. A common line uttered at every red carpet for the Academy Awards is “it’s an honor just to be nominated.” That’s true. But let’s be honest with ourselves. If we’re good enough to be nominated, why can’t we accept the truth that we want to be awarded as well? There’s nothing wrong with someone telling you that you’re good at what you do. If we regularly accept bonuses and merit salary increases, then we can also accept a nice piece of crystal from our peers. It’s time to stop convincing ourselves that we are frauds. Instead, start accepting the fact that yes, we are worthy.

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Giving advice or giving away the store?

I value the opportunity to give back and pay it forward. Most recently, it has come in the form of giving advice to younger professionals looking to start or develop a career in government relations. Within the last three weeks, I’ve received no less than four different requests to discuss my career and offer any tips on starting out. I don’t mind helping. However, I’m starting to wonder if advice is the only thing people want from me.

Let me explain. I recently had a phone conversation with a young woman who was very anxious to start her GR career. We talked about what she was currently doing and what she wanted to do. I offered to look at her resume and gave a couple of resources. Five minutes later, she asked, “Can I just connect with you via LinkedIn so I can access to your contacts and ask them for a job?” In my head I was like, “Sure. While I’m at it, why don’t I also give you my ATM pin and the keys to my house?” The amazing thing? She was serious. When I politely declined, she ended our conversation.

It’s one thing for a job seeker to ask you for a couple of people to reach out to. It’s another to ask you to hand over your professional network. I like to help because I had a number of informational interviews when I started my career. However, when I asked for advice, I was respectful of the person’s time and willingness to help me. Now that I’m in the position of being asked for my assistance, I find that some people expect me to spend all of my spare time helping them find a job.

Look, we’re all busy people. When you ask someone for advice, be aware that something is being put on the back burner for you. Be respectful of that. If you’re being asked for career advice, be realistic on what you can deliver. Don’t feel pressured to find someone a job or get them an interview if you can’t.

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Looking back, looking forward

As we begin a new year, we often reflect back and determine what we’d like to see in the new year. I’m no different. It’s kinda hard to describe 2013 in simple terms. It wasn’t a bad year for me. I turned 40. I traveled to Hawaii for the first time. I had my first learning lab at ASAE annual. I dove head first into the wonderful word of Android (surprise!). I witnessed friends and family succeed beyond expectations. However, I also experienced being lied to, manipulated and passed over. My work suffered a bit during a particularly stressful time. I gained weight (sigh). I didn’t blog as often as I would’ve liked to. I nearly lost personal and professional relationships that were dear to me. I made choices that in hindsight were stupid.

Even if I could go back and change some of what I experienced, I don’t think I would. For I’ve probably have learned more about myself this year than any other time in my life. I learned what I’m capable of and what I still need to work on. I have some very specific goals for 2014. Some I will share. Others I will keep close to the vest. I will make you this promise: this year, I will return to regular blogging. I will have at least two posts per month.

I’m optimistic for 2014. I’ve decided to leave a lot of anger and resentment in the past and move forward. I’m excited about upcoming trips and opportunities I’ve been presented with. I also look forward to sharing my thoughts about advocacy, DELP and other topics with you. Thank you for reading my blog in 2013 and I hope you will continue in 2014.

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Advocacy and social media: A case study from ASHA

I’m always talking about the need for associations to use social media in their advocacy efforts. With nearly every member of the House and Senate on at least one social network, there’s opportunity to push our issues beyond the traditional email action alert. Just this morning, I read a piece on how Members of Congress are starting to use Google+ and Google Hangouts in communicating with their constituents.

While some of us have been slow in implementation, others are diving into the deep end of the social media pool. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is one of those groups. Recently, I had a chance to talk to Caroline Goncalves, Associate Director of Federal Advocacy in ASHA’s Capitol Hill office about how they use social media tools in their advocacy efforts.

Association Advocacy Chick: Describe your position with ASHA?

Caroline Goncalves: I am the associate director of Federal Advocacy at ASHA.  I primarily deal with the association’s grassroots programs such as running our take action site and facilitating member hill days.  A large part of my job is encouraging member engagement in ASHA’s federal advocacy issues and I thought there was an opportunity to reach more members by harnessing the power of social media.

AAC: Do you work with ASHA’s communications department and/or web team on social media?

CG: ASHA has a social media manager who runs all of ASHA’s primary social media accounts and ASHA’s online community.  The ASHA Advocacy social media team works closely with her for advice on best practices and collaboration. As well, we are members of a larger social media liaisons group within ASHA which gets together on a bimonthly basis to share new developments in social media, successes we’ve had and what has not worked as well.

If there is a particularly important message we want out there, an action alert for example, we will ask the social media manager to share it on the main ASHA social media pages to increase our reach and get an even bigger audience involved.

AAC: How did the Facebook page come about?

CG: After attending some briefings and information sessions about how social media can be used to enhance your advocacy efforts we decided this was an opportunity we should pursue.  As mentioned, ASHA already had several successful social media channels but after some discussions we thought that the government relations and public policy cluster at ASHA had enough content to build our own page and reach out to an audience who was interested in learning more about and participating in advocacy matters related to federal, state, and health care advocacy issues.

Since much of our work is fast-moving and could need immediate action, this page also allowed us the flexibility to post urgent happenings immediately and get the information out there when we need to.  Unlike the main ASHA Facebook page where the posts are scheduled sometimes weeks in advance and it could be a struggle to get our messages out in a timely fashion.

ASHA advocacy

AAC: You also have a Twitter account. How do you communicate your advocacy efforts in 140 characters?

Twitter’s character count takes some creativity to convey an effective message but we always seem to figure it out.  You need to be able to catch someone’s attention with the limited space that you have. That means mentioning the most important thing that they need to know and how this issue will affect their daily life and their profession. A catchy hashtag doesn’t hurt as well. We will almost always include a link for more information so that a member can take action or find more resources on the issue.

ASHA on twitter

AAC: Talk about using Pinterest in your advocacy efforts.

CG: Pinterest is the fastest growing social network that ASHA Advocacy is on. The number of followers has by far passed any of the other social media avenues. The caveat to setting up the Pinterest site is that it’s hard to find images to post, which makes it the most difficult to maintain. However, our Pinterest followers are really engaged. Everything that we have ever posted has been repined or liked, so we know it’s worth it. We’ve gotten creative by posting screen shots of webpages to drive members back to the website or action alerts and try to have our graphics team design some infographics to post. Those always do well.

In addition, it is a well-known fact that Pinterest is most popular with women, which is the majority of our membership and why it’s been so effective for ASHA. It may not be the right choice for all associations, especially if they have a larger male membership.

AAC: What lessons have you learned about advocacy and social media that other associations can benefit from?

CG: You should be using every platform at your disposal to be engaging members in advocacy and social media is an easy and effective way to do so.  Many people have email overload and it can be harder to reach them through a traditional email message because you may be sent straight to the trash with the other 20 emails they are sorting through and don’t have time to read. However, if someone is already on social media and happens to see your post while scrolling, you might catch them and get them interested and involved in advocacy.  Even better if our post is shared by a friend or colleague of theirs because it seems more authentic coming from a trusted source, if their friend thinks it’s important maybe they should too.

We’re also building an educated audience and letting them know about issues as they’re happening, not just when we need them to do something.  We hope this means when it is time to ask them to take action, they are more willing to do so because they know what’s at stake.

Finally, we’ve found social media to be a great tool to communicate quickly with our audience, but also to answer their questions.  We can immediately respond to questions a member may have and it’s visible to another member who may have had the same question.  It can start a discussion with members about an issue which is valuable to us as it gives us feedback about how members feel and if we are doing the best job we can to effectively communicate what they need to know.

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Do association members make the best lobbyists?

During my organization’s annual meeting earlier this year, I did an advocacy training for some early career psychologists of color. As I was talking about the important role our members play in our advocacy efforts, I was asked the following question: If our members are so important to the process, why do we need someone like you on Capitol Hill?  The intent wasn’t mean-spirited. Rather, it was asked about someone who was completely unfamiliar with association lobbyists.

I’ve been asked similar questions throughout my career. Why are you not an audiologist or psychologist?  Why do we need “a hired hand” (my words, not theirs) when we have so many members who can go to the Hill? My answer is always the same: professional lobbyists have specific expertise, training and skills to advocate in support of or in opposition to an issue of importance to an association. This isn’t to say that members of an association can’t become lobbyists. However, being a lobbyist for an association is more than just knowing what the research says or experiencing the issues the profession is facing on a daily basis. It’s being politically savvy. It’s coalition building. It’s being able to respond to the ever-changing ways of Congress.

While I’d like to think that associations truly support their professional lobbyists, I know more than a few (including yours truly) who have been denied jobs and promotions because we weren’t members of the profession. A good lobbyist will know how to work any issue regardless of the association. For CEOs looking to hire their next lobbyist, think about the current political landscape and ask yourself this question: Do I hire the person with 10 years of lobbying experience or 10 years as a member of the association?

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Lobbyist vs. Government Relations

Earlier this week, we learned that the American League of Lobbyists (ALL) is considering a name change that would drop the word lobbyist. In a letter to the ALL membership, the Board expressed a need to rebrand the organization to reflect the updated responsibilities of a lobbyist. However, the group maintains that the mission to define and defend the role of lobbyists will not be affected by a possible name change. Some of the names being considered include The Association of Government Relations Professionals and The National Association of Government Relations Professionals.

I must admit that I’m a bit torn by this issue. On the one hand, ALL is one of the few associations that still use the word Lobbyist in its name.  Many organizations tend to use government relations (ex. Women in Government Relations, the Washington Government Relations Group). I’ve maintained that lobbying is not a bad word and shouldn’t be treated as such. On the other hand, I understand the argument that lobbyists do more than just lobby. We also give presentations to our members. We draft articles for our association publications. We organize events.

I’m not a current member of ALL so I don’t have a dog in the fight. However, I wonder if an ALL name change is part of a larger trend which may eventually affect what we call ourselves. I have colleagues who do not call themselves lobbyists.  They’re advocates or consultants who just also happen to lobby.

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