July 31, 2013

The Art of the Fly-In

Casie Daugherty

Thousands of organizations descend on Capitol Hill in an organized fashion every year to advocate for their specific interests and provide “real-world” observations on legislation and federal issues. Commonly referred to as “Fly-Ins,” these gatherings often serve as a critical component in a comprehensive advocacy strategy by building the vital relationships between Federally elected officials and their constituents. Fly-ins allow Members of Congress to hear directly from organizations on the federal issues that affect them and the vital role the organization plays in the Member’s district or State.

There are many key elements that go into planning and executing a successful lobby day, and throughout the years, Prime Policy Group has perfected the “art” of the Fly-In with our clients.

Sometimes, a client needs convincing that coming to Washington is important or even necessary. Prime Policy Group helps to advise clients on why they should hold these events and encourage maximum participation. We often remind clients that by coming to Washington to speak to their legislators, they are exercising their First Amendment rights “to petition their government for redress of grievances.”  We understand that Fly-In’s demand an investment of time and resources from an organization’s members, outside of their normal work or business commitments.  We help clients to appreciate the value in talking directly with their elected officials about their concerns as a citizen and a voter.

One of the most important things in constructing a successful Fly-In is developing the message. Prime Policy Group helps clients organize priorities and devise key messaging around those goals for a successful day on Capitol Hill. The message is dependent on the objectives of the visit, whether it’s to introduce and educate about an industry to offices on the Hill or to communicate concerns about specific issues or legislation, or both. Prime always recommends that clients consolidate their issues to be discussed during a Fly-In to only a few and to develop  one or two specific “asks.” Having prioritized and distilled messages and setting clear goals will help to ensure meetings are productive and worthwhile for the organization, and received well by Members of Congress.

It is important to determine the most appropriate time for an organization to visit Washington. Prime Policy Group helps clients take into account the Congressional schedule, including typical DC work week schedules, district and state work weeks and recess periods. For example, when Congress is in session, many Members of Congress travel on Mondays and Fridays, commuting back and forth between their districts and states and Washington. Therefore, those days are usually not good days to schedule meetings with constituents in DC. Time of year and when legislation is being considered are also considerations. These are just a few examples of the type of details that must be considered when choosing a date for a Fly-In.

Generally, lobby day participants meet with Representatives and Senators from the districts and States where their businesses are headquartered and other locations where they operate. Prime Policy Group has specific expertise in managing the logistics and communications involved in requesting and scheduling multiple meetings for Fly-In participants and ensuring the schedule will work for each individual. Prime Policy Group develops an individual schedule for each participant and a master schedule for the organization.  We have organized Fly-In’s involving fewer than ten meetings to over 200 meetings in one day.  Depending on the goal of the Fly-In, it’s often important to target additional meetings with Members of Congress who serve on Committees that have jurisdiction over a specific issue, or Members of Congress who will serve as strong advocates in Congress on the client’s behalf.

It’s important that participants attend their meetings as prepared as possible with talking points, appropriate “leave-behind” documents, maps, directions and tips for having successful meetings. Prime Policy Group helps clients with all of these aspects of a Fly-In and often, provides pre-briefings for participants. These can include a “Congressional Meeting 101” tutorial, including do’s and don’ts, suggestions on how to best frame the issues and make the asks, follow-up, how to deal with delays and security, where to grab a bite to eat and virtually anything that might come up during a Fly-In.

Many groups also choose to supplement the individual visits on Capitol Hill with visits or presentations for the entire group from key Members of Congress who have been champions for the organization or industry, heads of Federal agencies, other trade groups or coalitions, or industry experts.  Some organizations also desire to add a campaign event or other events to their Fly-In schedule.  Prime Policy Group helps clients construct these additional add-on events to a typical Fly-In to maximize their value in conjunction with the individual visits. These events are tailored to an organization’s specific needs and can be very helpful for members of an organization to meet and interact with Members of Congress and agency personnel involved with their industry’s issues outside of their Congressional delegation.

In conclusion, Fly-Ins can be a critically important component of a comprehensive legislative advocacy strategy. A successful Fly-In demands a range of skills including solid planning, organization, management of multiple tasks and logistics, attention to details, creative messaging, knowledge of Congress and the legislative process, industry expertise and timely follow-up actions.  Prime Policy Group has assisted many clients with Fly-Ins through the years, knows what works and adapts its approach to each client for maximum productivity and value.