Hearings and bill mark-ups are commonplace in many committees in the House of Representatives and Senate every day. These routine-but-important parts of the legislative process are great opportunities to leverage your advocacy goals.
A hearing or mark-up is a perfect opportunity to activate your advocates with a specific call to action (CTA). Your advocacy appeal can be issued before a hearing, during, after, or “all of the above” for maximum effect.
Beyond your traditional email, text and social media campaign you can get a little more disruptive and creative for maximum effect. More often cameras are on — even if it’s C-Span 3 — media are present, and the stage is set for a focused discussion on a topic that can advance your agenda.
Everyone that follows politics and advocacy fondly remembers the Monopoly Man sitting directly behind former Equifax CEO Richard Smith during a Senate Banking Committee hearing. This technique is certainly in the Playbook for Viral Advocacy Efforts and is a perfect example of how to leverage a hearing for advocacy.
Granted the Equifax hearing was a high-profile proceeding, which may not be the case for some of the more mundane topics discussed at these sessions. But you can use some basic tactics for any hearing across the board. Here are a few ways to get the most out of a hearing and leverage it for your advocacy efforts:
Target committee staff before, during, and after:
Circulate your talking points and meet directly with appropriate committee staff. Make sure you meet with your member of Congress champions, as well as potential opponents, if possible, to see what they’re planning. Make sure that you compliment these direct lobbying meetings with grassroots actions that are aligned with your core messaging.
Essentially, think in terms of what can get out there in the hearing that advances your cause. Recognize that you may only get a sentence or two at most. Staff must prepare a great deal for committee hearings so it’s a perfect time to share pertinent information, packaged in a way that can be easily repurposed into a speech or question made during or after the hearing.
Make sure to attend in person.
Yes, it’s easy to watch the hearing from your office and sometimes you will have to do so because of scheduling constraints. But it’s always good practice to attend the hearing in person for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it shows members and their staff that you and your organization are watching the issues carefully.
Thanks to technology, you’ll be able to provide real-time updates to your organization leadership and members. It also allows you to harvest meaningful content from the proceeding such as quotes, video clips, photos, et cetera.
Being there, you can gauge the full range of emotions in the room —including the audience. The hearing room is often packed with parties who are also interested (as well as media) in the hearing topics, and you can network with them before and after the main event.
Submit for-the-record testimony.
Chairmen and ranking members of committees welcome outside testimony “for the record” as the hearing transcripts are held open for a designated period (10 days to two weeks is the norm). This is another impactful way to get your points across, even after the hearing has been held.
Your active participation in the hearing/mark-up process might offer you the opportunity to get a witness heard at a future related hearing. Undoubtedly, that significantly raises the level of attention and impact of your advocacy.
Mike Fulton directs the Washington, D.C., office of Asher Agency and teaches public affairs in the West Virginia University Reed College of Media’s Integrated Marketing Communications program.
Joshua Habursky is the Head of Federal Affairs at the Premium Cigar Association and Adjunct Professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.