Barbara Hidden is vice president, head of federal affairs at the American Beverage Association.
Like many other areas of association work, the hybrid environment has changed how advocacy gets done. Learn how a hybrid strategy can be a useful tool for associations when it comes to their advocacy efforts.
Many years ago, I accompanied my members to a meeting with a member of the House leadership team during our fly-in. The congressman was feeling bruised and battered after a defeat on the House floor. He is a normally jovial person with a great sense of humor, and I had never seen him like this.
We didn’t come with an ask—just a cordial visit to talk about the business and what was going on back in his district. After talking with the folks from “back home,” it was clear we lifted his spirits.
This example shows the power of in-person connections and makes the case that associations should not rely solely on virtual fly-ins that helped them continue their advocacy work during the height of the pandemic. Instead, hybrid advocacy will prove most effective moving forward.
When schedules become too cluttered, we meet virtually, so we can get work done. And when schedules allow, we meet in person and savor the genuine warmth of a firm handshake or friendly embrace. With discipline, adaptability, and a willingness to be flexible, associations can have the best of both worlds.
At the American Beverage Association (ABA), we work remotely Mondays and Fridays and come to the office the other three days. This creates a natural flow where quick Teams meetings with colleagues are easily done remotely, but our in-depth discussions (and Hill advocacy) happen Tuesday through Thursday.
Associations should not rely solely on virtual fly-ins that helped them continue their advocacy work during the height of the pandemic.We’ve changed the way we work, prioritizing those tasks that are better-suited for face-to-face discussions for in-person days and reserve our somewhat quieter Mondays and Fridays for writing, touch-base meetings with colleagues, catching up on emails, and administrative tasks.
This schedule is helpful for lobbyists as well because it largely mirrors the Congressional schedule. For the most part, Members fly in from their districts on Monday evening and hold hearings and votes Tuesday through Thursday evenings. This allows lobbyists to concentrate on in-person functions, such as attending Hill meetings and fundraising events, on those three days.
While we’ve reordered how we execute, cramming many in-person meetings—both on and off the Hill—into the Tuesday through Thursday pattern has worked for us.
We also see the benefits of online meetings. For example, their flexibility allows us to invite more guest speakers to participate in our webinars. This adds substantive content to our presentations and can be a draw for members who are busy running their businesses. It’s also easier to get an administration official or a member of Congress to speak to members if they can do so from their offices. In addition, remote meetings often allow a broader group of constituents to participate as travel time and costs aren’t involved.
To combat technology glitches, ABA has upgraded our virtual meetings technology, and our support team routinely tests the tech setup in advance of meetings to ensure everything is working. But we are all human, so like many others, we still haven’t consistently mastered how to take ourselves off mute!
Remember that Hill staffers are as busy as we are. Although associations may prefer in-person meetings, don’t turn down an online meeting. Be gracious and make it work.
The key is to stay focused in this environment and rely on old-fashioned habits: Close your office door when you sign into a meeting to signal that you can’t be disturbed and keep background noise to a minimum. Take notes on calls and follow up with Hill staff by email. Send updates to superiors or elected officials so you keep them in the loop.While in-person work gives us the opportunity to better collaborate with colleagues and attend fundraisers, the convenience of mixing online and in-person advocacy enables us to squeeze more into our jam-packed days.