During the summer months, many Americans hit the open roads to take a break from their desk job. That includes members of Congress. Each August, U.S. senators and representatives go back to their home states and districts for a few weeks to reconnect with the people they represent.
The congressional recess is sacrosanct on Capitol Hill. Many members of Congress view this time period as a critical opportunity to hear directly from constituents. Through in-person conversations at businesses, civic events and industry gatherings, senators and representatives take the pulse of their state.
Outside of Washington’s noisy media environment, members of Congress focus their attention squarely on the home front. Given this dynamic, it’s a golden opportunity for businesses, advocacy groups and trade associations to target local media markets to influence their representatives in Washington. Doing so can help drive the conversation surrounding legislative debates that will dominate the rest of the year
Here are five ways you and your organization can prepare to maximize the effectiveness of the upcoming August congressional recess.
Educate the local media. Reporters working outside the Beltway often don’t have the time or resources to follow the nuances of Capitol Hill debates. Before recess gets underway, there’s an opportunity to educate relevant local reporters about how particular issues in Washington affect your business or industry. Providing journalists with local voices, relevant data and real-world examples will help illustrate this impact. Educating reporters before they cover a member of Congress at an event will help ensure they better understand the local angle and create the conditions for more favorable media coverage.
Voice your opinion in the newspaper. Laying out your organization’s stance on pending legislation through an opinion piece in the newspaper virtually guarantees that it will be seen by a member of Congress and his or her staff. That’s because senators and representatives start just about every day with a careful review of local news and opinion. Making a case for why a particular bill will help or harm your company and its employees can let a member of Congress know how debates in Washington play back home with constituents.
Invite a member of congress to your facility. Hosting a member of Congress at your factory or facility provides an opportunity to shine a spotlight on issues that impact your group or business. If your organization can help validate in real life a policy priority that’s important to your representative, invite him or her to see how. Insofar as senators and representatives want to be as visible as possible during recess, inviting members of the media is an essential component of a congressional site visit.
Social impact. If your company is involved in initiatives that benefit society at large, the congressional recess provides a prime opportunity to show your senator or representative how you’re making a difference in the community. For example, veterans hiring, workforce training and sustainability efforts are all programs that can show how your business is a responsible citizen. By inviting members of Congress and the media to see your initiatives in action, you can burnish your company’s reputation while strengthening your relationships with elected officials.
Digital media. Digital media engagement is another tool to reach senators and representatives while they’re back home. With the ability to geotarget key messages to specific locations where a member of Congress is likely to be during recess, you can help ensure he or she sees what you and your industry have to say about key topics. Strategically promoting Twitter and Facebook posts can help get your message onto the smart phone of your senator or representative—who will no doubt be scrolling through social media feeds while traveling between local events.
Although many advocacy campaigns focus on reaching members of Congress while they’re in Washington, a home state media strategy can be even more effective. The congressional recess provides an opening to break through and engage with your senators and representatives while they’re back in their states—setting the stage for policy breakthroughs this fall.
Jeff Grappone is a senior vice president at ROKK Solutions, a bipartisan public affairs firm. He previously led messaging and communications for the Senate Republican Conference and has served as a spokesman for three U.S. senators.