Washington has had the reputation as a good ole boys club for decades. If you weren’t in the inner circle, getting things done on Capitol Hill was an uphill battle, pun intended. However, times are changing. Not only are women taking over a larger portion of the seats at the table, a new wave of representatives is bringing about new opportunities for advancing legislation for associations.
With this new crop of senators and representatives come new staffers ready to serve as the gatekeepers between you and getting your organization’s agenda in front of legislators. Take it from me, someone with more than eight years experience on the Hill planning association and government relations events: avoid these top five mistakes and your efforts to book meetings on the Hill will be more successful.
Mistake 1: Requesting A Meeting Too Far In Advance
Look, I’m all for planning in advance, however, the schedules of congressional offices move so fast and are so tightly coordinated, you can’t ask for a meeting two months in advance and expect to get it. There is simply too much time that could pass and too many things that could happen in the government that’ll derail that plan, so offices can’t commit.
The ideal is to wait about two to three weeks out from your requested dates. Any further out, or with less notice, and your chances of a face-to-face go down drastically.
Mistake 2: Being Inflexible With Availability
You’ve chosen the week you want to meet, but don’t get so locked in on specific time. You are the one asking for the time, so you need to be flexible with how many windows you offer up. Narrow time constraints will hurt your request.
Mistake 3: Following Up Too Aggressively
Not hearing back within 24–48 hours is not a reason to freak out and follow up again with a “Just wanted to check in here…” type email. More than 90% of the time, if you haven’t heard back it’s because the request is still in process. Be sure they see you as someone they want to meet with, and not a time suck, by providing a thorough, yet specific background on why you want the meeting.
Mistake 4: Submitting the Request in the Wrong Way
It may sound simple, but following directions for submitting a request is paramount. Some offices have forms that need to be filled out in lieu of lengthy emails or attachments. Find out if your member’s office has a specific protocol to follow for requesting a meeting, then follow it. Simple as that.
Mistake 5: Going Around the Scheduler
It doesn’t matter that you have a relationship with the chief of staff or legislative director. Follow the right channels and climb the ladder. The only time going directly to your connection is appropriate is when you have exhausted all of your other options for connecting with the scheduler (i.e. multiple emails, phone calls and voicemails) and time is running low.
Jump to the top of the chain too soon and the result could be deprioritizing your request. Why? Simply because you also committed Mistake 4 and did not follow the office’s protocol.
Amaia Stecker has more than a decade of planning experience for corporate, nonprofit and social organizations. With more than 13 years in event production and nine on Capitol Hill, she founded Pilar & Co. in 2015, specializing in innovative association and government relations events and matching organizations to like-minded sponsors and donors.