By Michael J. Behm, Co-Chief Executive Officer & Principal
The National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) annual Legislative Summit wrapped-up last Friday – its 40th such meeting and the largest of the state and local officials Groups forums during the summer months with nearly 5,000 legislators, staff, corporate, trade association, non- profit, union members and others attending the meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Themes such as education, energy and health care dominated the agenda, new leadership were elected and you likely attended more receptions than you now care to remember.
And now that you have returned to your office – perhaps still a bit sleep-deprived – “reality strikes,” as one of my clients put it this morning. The last thing you care to think about is that legislative meeting last week, as you face that pile of work on your desk, fast-approaching deadlines, the next trip or the prospect of shuttling kids back to school.
This meeting, like many other large Groups meetings held this summer, is a very large commitment of resources, dollars and time. All of the work you performed at the Legislative Summit should be mapped back to the retail work that you, your customers, clients or members perform in the states’ capitals or in Washington, DC. This meeting, like others, should help set the stage for your work in 2015. If you have not already, you need to spare some time to make the most of this meeting – even if you are now sitting behind your desk or parked on a beach for a much-needed vacation.
You have one more thing to do before you move on from Minneapolis: You need to follow-up.
That Stack of Business Cards
Take the time to evaluate those you met at the Summit and add them to your network, especially legislators and staff. Develop a follow-up plan to reconnect with these people, whether that involves a future in-person meeting while you are visiting their state capital, sending them collateral about an issue you discussed with them, offering expertise on an issue that you anticipate emerging in their state or keeping it as simple as emailing (or better yet, hand-writing) a note to remind them about the encounter. Policymakers – and especially state legislators – appreciate the outreach, getting to know issue experts and accumulating private sector resources. In this horrible climate of budget cuts and travel restrictions, policymakers enjoy the rare opportunity to travel and build relationships with government affairs professionals, just as we in the private sector do. Now is the time to build and nurture those relationships – when you do not need them and before the chaos of session begins.
The Helpful Staff
The professional staff at NCSL (and other Groups for that matter) can be overlooked in the days post-conference. One or more of them might have helped guide you at the Summit, recommended sessions or committee meetings that you attended, placed you or your boss on a panel, clarified the policy process or found one of the leaders for you in a crowded reception room. While the legislators ultimately drive the agenda at NCSL, it is the staff who execute and your relationship with them serves as your program’s continuity of participation with the Group. Get to know them in between the meetings and find ways to serve as a resource to them, so that they can be a resource again to you in the future.
The Panel or Session You, or Your Boss, Participated On – Now What?
The very large Legislative Summit is an excellent forum for raising your program’s profile and educating a wide variety of legislators, staff and your peers. Thoughtful follow-up after the Summit is critical – you want that presentation and the messaging to resonate through to January. Consider following-up on the issue with the NCSL staff. The issue was important enough to raise at the Summit; perhaps it can be revisited in a publication, blog, LegisBrief, email or serve as the foundation for a future session at the Fall Forum in December. Contact the legislators who participated on the panel, or attended the session, and provide regular updates about the issue, your advocacy efforts or news about your program. You might have been too busy presenting to collect contact information from the attendees, but staff collect that information in many of the committee meetings and sessions – just ask them.
Policy, Resolutions and Letters
I have written about this before – and I frequently share with my clients – you get out of the NCSL policy process what you put into it. That satisfaction you felt last week after successfully getting a “win” in the policy process at the Standing Committee or Business Meeting will wane quickly unless you do something about it. It is hard work to get a Committee to approve policy. NCSL expresses itself to the federal government in a variety of ways: policy directives, resolutions and letters to the Hill and federal agencies. This is guidance for the benefit of their own lobbying efforts – they are recommendations, suggestions to their advocacy team. But unless your policy priority happens to be theirs, the burden falls on you to promote it. Find ways to incorporate a policy directive or resolution into your advocacy collateral and messaging for the upcoming session, share it with your federal colleagues (it is often easy to overlook, but NCSL policy is directed at the federal government) and use that policy victory to help nurture relationships with the legislators and staff who helped pass it for you.
The Dreaded “Trip Report”
My colleague referenced this last week in her blog, Out of Session, Out of Mind: Reach back to the business units in your organization, your association members and your superiors and share with them the results of your Summit participation, the policy victories, the issues that were discussed, those people you met and – perhaps most important – how you plan to leverage that during the upcoming session season. But, ugh, writing that “trip report” now seems like a make-work exercise as you are trying to race out the door for an end of summer vacation. Just remember that that communication to your internal clients is as important as the Summit itself. To those outside the arena of government affairs, it is sometimes difficult to assess the value of these Groups and their meetings, but they are a valuable part of our jobs. Groups such as NCSL are shaping national policy and few other forums provide such economical opportunities to educate and motivate a large number of policymakers. Your communications about your Summit participation will help your internal customers better understand the value of Groups such as NCSL and help ensure program, and Groups, support down the road.
Asking for Help
The reality I mentioned above has struck as you return to your office – it is so easy to get distracted from last week’s meeting. Do not be afraid to lean heavily on your consultants to assist with the follow-up. Your state, local and national consultants and lobbyists should be made aware of the policymakers and staff you met and the sessions in which you participated (or presented), but they should also help you with the follow-up strategy and specific communications. My colleagues and I are performing all of this follow-up for our clients that I describe above: facilitating the post-Summit meetings, monitoring NCSL activities and issues, continuing to help raise the client’s profile among key staff and leadership and generally working to establish our clients’ credibility in the relevant subject areas and as the face and voice of their industry within NCSL and among its members.
Doing this the right way, and right away, is a lot of work and it is ongoing work and it never ends. Attend a meeting. Follow-up. Repeat.
To access NCSL’s comprehensive online Legislative Summit resource page, visit http://www.ncsl.org/meetings-training/2014-legislative-summit-online-resources.aspx.