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Advocacy Has To Be Customized

Clearly, having an older, more experienced, and more successful person trying to persuade a young staffer can be a recipe for disaster. Many of the necessary ingredients – trust, similarity, just liking a person – are missing. To overcome these hurdles, the advocate should find out what the staffer and client have in common. Where is the staffer from? Is this his or her first job out of college? What college? We know of advocates who break through this way and are able to meet with legislators who were previously “unavailable.”

A significant amount of research shows that building rapport before negotiating increases the likelihood of an agreement. If it works for negotiators, we can apply it to grassroots lobbying efforts.

Another key to making Washington outsiders effective when they are in town is getting beyond fly-ins and fund-raisers and creating opportunities for face-to-face contact before and after the Hill visits. Examples include:

  • Serving on a nonprofit board in the lawmaker’s district
  • Introducing the lawmaker or staffers to community and opinion leaders
  • Arranging for the lawmaker or staff to speak at community group meetings
  • Working on the campaign
  • Asking them to meet with employees or professional association members when they are in the district

Finally, find the right language that will connect constituents with lawmakers. Telling a story is powerful, in part because it is a “stealth” tactic for persuading others. Stories engage listeners and get them on your side without strong-arm tactics. This is exactly what we taught the hospitality industry people. Naturally nonconfrontational, they were both more comfortable and more effective advocates when telling their personal stories rather than reciting facts and statistics.