Closing Keynote and Panel Discussion

Friday, August 2, 2019


Chris Bender, Vice President, Public Affairs Council
Vlad Eidelman, Vice President of Research, FiscalNote
Brad Fitch, President and CEO, Congressional Management Foundation
Wilsar Johnson, Director of Digital Strategy, Congressional Black Caucus | Chairwoman Karen Bass
Suzanne Swink, Senior Director, Regulatory Advocacy – Communications & External Affairs, BP America Inc.

We know that Hill offices are craving personalized messages but will this trend continue or will they seek more regular micro-feedback from constituents? What role will AI play? What about new technologies? Will constituents need to be verified? Will grassroots campaigns need to register like lobbyists? How will deep-fake videos erode trust? Maybe candidates will start appearing as holograms at town-hall meetings. Our experts will look to current trends to predict the future of our industry. A can’t miss session to close out the Summit.


Annual constituent mail went from 9,300 in 2001 to 48,000 in 2011 and then 123,000 pieces a year in 2017. In the 1950s, a single person in a Congressional office could have a handle on the mail. By the 1970s, technology had proven an asset, and more communication could go out than came in. By the 90s, the electronic inbox began overflowing the inbox. Now, with social media and an explosion of communications, offices can barely keep up.

Individual constituents back home are finding that their voices are more important than ever before. Congressional offices and grassroots organizers are differing on what strategies influence them: 79% of strategists report that they used mass email as a primary strategy, which 3% of Congressional offices found to have “a lot” of influence. In one recent survey, half of all offices’ staff reported that they didn’t show mass email numbers or updates to their boss. One deputy chief of staff reported that form letter email campaigns are “almost useless,” but that personalized communications like phone calls, real letters, and in-person communication are going to get attention and a real response. One staffer told CMF in a survey, “If you want your voice to be heard, use your own voice.” 

Four characteristics of advanced advocacy:

  1. Identify advocates who are most likely to succeed. Find people who are active in their community/district, and who will be listened to when they request a meeting.

  2. Identify advocates in key states and districts. Just a few people in key districts represented by important or relevant Members of Congress (committee chairs, senior leaders) can move the needle.

  3. Brand the program. People like being part of something special. This works for both internal recruiting – people want to be a part of the organization – and for getting attention on the Hill or in other advocacy efforts, like coordinated colors and branding. Also consider compressing advocacy trainings into just a few months, instead of over the course of a year or longer.

  4. Diverse training. In a survey, Congressional staff report that 12% of average constituents are prepared, but that 97% of advocates who go through high-quality training were prepared for their meeting. 30 to 45 minutes of advocates participating in hands-on roleplay training and practice can be vital to making people feel more comfortable. 

The future of the advocacy profession is tied to being able to directly tie a financial impact and value to the work, and to demonstrate that to organizational leadership. 

Personalized advocacy experiences are the future. Retailers might start incorporating advocacy asks into their sales workflow, combining marketing and advertising with public affairs. Organizations will also start finding more unique spaces to get their messages out, including in virtual or online environments like video games. 

Automation of data analysis will soon be applied to four areas:

  1. Identifying the issues that advocacy or fundraising campaigns are built around – AI is already being used to monitor things like press releases and new legislation as it’s introduced

  2. Identifying the stakeholders who should be targeted for advocacy campaigns. Maybe legislators have never worked together, but they’ve taken money from the same PACs or organizations. They have something in common and it might not be apparent before data analysis points it out.

  3. Identifying the right advocates, both grasstops and grassroots. Generating the right segmentation of a list so that you send the right messages to interested audiences. Marketers are doing this using third-party data on their consumer preferences.

  4. Automatically personalizing messages to advocates and stakeholders. If you know something about a policymaker, and something about your advocate, you can automatically generate a personalized message that targets something the advocate cares about (their demographics, previous work with you, or interest in other issues) and a message to the policymaker that makes it look less like a form letter.