A different kind of recess meeting

While a month seems like sufficient time to press the flesh, lawmakers can’t possibly accept every invitation for a parade, town hall meeting or factory tour. That presents a problem to the lobbyists or grassroots outreach pros who are paid to get face time with key senators and representatives.

Getting a representative to visit your company in his or her district is hard enough; the problem is exacerbated tenfold for senators who have to cover an entire state.

So what can government affairs experts do when the scheduler says “no” to the company tour?

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There is another way to make a different kind of recess meeting. If you can’t take Moses (the lawmaker) to the mountain (your member company sites), then why not take the mountain to Moses? Since an in-person meeting is out of the question, why not do the next best thing and do the meeting via live video using Skype, Facetime or Google Hangout?

All three of these services are free, easy to use and don’t require a third party to set up or moderate a call. As long as the lawmaker is connected to the Internet, he or she can take a “virtual tour” of a company or factory at his or her convenience via a desktop or laptop computer, tablet (like iPad) or smartphone (like iPhone or Android).

Let’s say your trade association represents America’s widget makers with members in every state and hundreds of districts. To demonstrate the value of your industry to the community, state and nation, you want to get as many members of Congress as possible to tour your widget factories and meet the many voters who make those widgets.

Once the appointment is scheduled, the lawmaker would call in via Skype, Facetime (which only works between Apple devices) or Google Hangout. Each widget factory would have one person to be the on-camera tour guide (using a wireless headphone/microphone connected by Bluetooth) and the other person would operate the camera, preferably an iPad or other large screen tablet device.

Here’s what a ten-minute video tour of the widget factory might look like:

Minute 1 - Intro: The tour guide opens the video session by greeting the lawmaker (or a surrogate staffer), introducing himself, the company and location, and thanking the lawmaker for “visiting.”

Minute 2-5 – Walkabout:  The tour guide can stay in one spot or walk throughout the widget factory, pointing out key sections or functions. He uses this time to offer a few key facts about the company, such as number of customers, number of employees, and hours of operation… anything the lawmaker might find interesting, even unique.

Minute 6-8 – Key Talking Points/Testimony: The tour guide moves to the key talking points that highlight the importance of the widget industry to the local, state and national economy, etc. This is a good time to also tell one or two human interest or success stories – maybe even a personal testimony from another employee.

Minute 9 – The Ask: This is the time to ask the member to support the widget association’s  causes, such as asking the lawmaker to support a particular bill, write a letter to a regulatory agency, contact the president or some other ask.

Minute 10 – Thanks and Goodbye
: The last minute is reserved to say thanks and see if the lawmaker has any questions and to make a final request for them to pay a personal visit to the widget factory in the future.

You may have some skeptics who may be afraid to give this idea a try because they don’t know if it will work. If lawmakers have been closing the door on your invitations for a personal tour, then isn’t it time to create an open window?

To be sure, a personal visit is better than a video conference, and an hour visit is better than ten minutes. But it’s important to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The key is to get in front of the lawmaker, and a video visit is better than no visit at all.

I could be wrong, but I suspect this kind of recess appointment will be received far better on Capitol Hill than the other version. And it makes life easier for lawmaker and lobbyist alike.

Schick is a partner at Adfero Group and a former U.S. Senate spokesperson.