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.
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.
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.
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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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?