One of the best ways to get your agenda in front of your public officials is to get them in front of your organization. By planning a media event around an public official’s visit to your organization, you will get additional exposure to your organization and your issues. This event should be educational for the public official, which will be a significant step toward being represented by an official that understands the challenges faced by individuals you serve.
Here are some tips to hosting a successful public official event:
Set the date, time and site for the event.
The site for your event should be chosen based on its potential impact on the public official and the media. A location that delivers services gives you an opportunity to help the official and the media focus on the positive outcomes associated with access to treatment and the support services. If hosting at one of your locations that provides services, ensure consumers and families areavailable to share their stories. If consumers are going to share their stories, remember to take steps needed to protect, confidentiality and privacy.
Your event should be no longer than 90 minutes.
Send invitations to the public officials targeted by this event. Ideally, the public official should receive a personal invitation from a key constituent — staff member, board member or consumer.
Follow up the invitations with a personal phone call. If the official can not come, offer invitation to someone from their staff.
Develop and make copies of materials to distribute at the event, including a fact sheet. Try not to overload the officials and guests with too much paper.
When planning the agenda for your event, follow a schedule that would give your professionals, consumer and family members an opportunity to tell their stories. Try to script this “testimony” so that an accurate picture is presented to the public officials, guests and media.
Develop talking points for the event and the order in which people will speak. Conduct a dry run with event coordinators.
Draft a news advisory to announce the event and send it to your media list the week before the event. Follow up with phone calls on the day before the event.
Arrange for a photographer, if appropriate.
Arrange for refreshments/lunch to be served, if appropriate.
Keep materials brief, straight forward and simple. When sharing printed materials with a public official, try to keep it to a one to two page, bulleted factsheet that reinforces the key points on the issue. Lengthy materials are often not read.
Clearly communicate what you are asking for. Whether it is support for a bill or issue or asking a public official to attend an event — be clear on the action you want taken.
Stay informed. Advocates should keep their public officials informed about their issues. On the flip side, advocates should also stay informed on where public officials stand on issues, the actions they have taken, and any debate they have participated in on the issue. If public officials know their constituents are watching, they are more likely to support the issues that matter most to theirconstituents.
Follow-up. Advocates can never thank a public official enough for supporting their cause, especially since they get pushed and pulled in many directions. It is essential for advocates to thank public officials when they are supportive of their issue. If a public official is not supportive, a relationship can still be formed by providing education and resources on issues; the relationship that isestablished as a result will likely be beneficial when in the future the issue comes up again.
Resource. Always offer yourself as a resource on your topic. If a public official calls you as a resource, always answer truthfully. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say you don’t know but will get back with an answer. It may be helpful to offer them another resource as well.
Media coverage. Public officials are often interested in the issues covered in the media. If there is an article in your community newspaper or in a newspaper that covers your issue — mail or fax a copy of the article to your public official with a note attached. If the media story covers and issues that you have previously raised with the public official, remind the public official about theprevious communication on the issue. Also, if major reports are released on a topic that you have previously discussed with your public official, you may wish to send the legislator a short summary of the report, especially if it comes from a well-respected research agency or a well-respected academic center in your state. This helps position you as a credible resource on your issues.
Phone - Remember legislators and their aides are busy, keep phone conversations short unless it is scheduled. Phone-in days on issues have an impact. You are likely to get a voicemail box, but leave a message with your key points and contact information.
Letters - Always remember to send a thank you letter. Letter should be short (no more then 2 pages unless address a complex issue). Always make sure your point is clear.
Email - Keep your emails professional- remember they become part of public record. Remember, your email might get a response. Make sure you include your name, phone number, and address.
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