Keynote General Session
Thursday, August 1, 2019
Sean Gard, Chief of Staff, Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI)
Jason Dick, Deputy Editor, CQ Roll Call
How do you make your pitch stand out with different audiences in the current media landscape? Join our morning keynote conversation to explore how a pitch would vary when delivered to a reporter versus a staffer, and what role the current state of media would play.
What is the first piece of news you read in the morning?
- Jason: CQ Morning Briefing is delivered before 5 AM and lets me know the biggest happenings that day. I also get the Capital Weather Gang to check the weather. I also have a newsletter called the Morning Brew, which is a quick newsletter about the markets. Then I go outside and get the paper.
- Sean: I wake up and it’s Twitter. At the office, I read through a print version of the Washington Post.
When it comes to your inbox, how many unopened emails do you have?
- Sean: 39,000+.
- Jason: For my work email, I zero it out. That doesn’t mean I’ve actually read all of them, I’ve just deleted them or opened them.
How do you stay organized?
- Jason: An index card is my hack. If I actually take a pen and write it down, that’s what I have to have done today. It’s very low-tech.
- Sean: I have a whole staff that points me in a direction and points me to where I need to be.
What mode of communication do you prefer?
- Jason: I do prefer email, because it gives me time to process it. During the work day, a telephone almost feels like an invasion.
- Sean: I prefer email far and away, for most of the same reasons. If you want to share details or an action item, it’s easier to forward an email to staff than relay a text.
What’s your favorite podcast?
- Sean: I just listened to This Land by Sarah Nagle, which I enjoyed.
- Jason: The Gist with Mike Pesca. I like how he quickly distills things but continues to have his own voice on issues. I will binge listen WTF with Marc Maron. His interview with Anthony Bourdain is a masterclass in interviewing.
What is the sweet spot in terms of a pitch or angle?
- Sean: I’m looking for something grounded locally in the district, but which has national impact.
- Jason: When I’m pitched by someone who knows what my publication values, that’s when it clicks for me. Knowing that someone understands where I’m coming from is key.
What matters more – 50 letters? 10 phone calls? 1 constituent meeting?
- Sean: What’s going to get my attention is if the issue is on brand for my member of Congress. If it’s something that she can lead on and that impacts a constituency she’s looking to serve, we’ll take it up.
How many times do you have in-person meetings? What’s the reason for it?
- Jason: I have an in-person meeting maybe once a week. I’m more social than a lot of my peers. I’m always trying to grow my source base. The reporters that I manage on my leadership team are pretty active too. They spend a decent amount of time meeting with people and touching base.
When it comes to issues or story ideas, who is driving that? Your boss or you?
- Jason: I’m in a unique situation. I drive a lot of the coverage for myself and my team. When I’m looking for a story for my podcast, I feel strongly about continuing education for myself and others – so I’m willing to take a leap on some issues.
- Sean: Our agenda is set by the committee hearings for the most part. I get to drive the agenda in my office.
How much are you influenced by constituents outside the Beltway?
- Sean: There’s no one in Washington, DC who can vote for my boss. If someone comes in with a Milwaukee problem, we’re working on it.
- Jason: Obviously the print edition of Roll Call has a dedicated audience on Capitol Hill. Increasingly, because we want to grow our digital presence, we have a keen awareness that what we write about things that will resonate with people. We don’t want to disappoint our local audience, but we want to connect people with why it’s important to be interested in politics.
How much does the election cycle impact your job?
- Jason: It’s everything. The odd-numbered years used to be when you thought about policy. Now, we’ve been talking about the presidential race since before the midterms. It’s completely reshaped how we think about public policy. It does shape everything we do, unfortunately.
- Sean: He’s right, the volume of work has increased and it’s coming at you faster, but you have less and less time and resources to deal with it. You want some ability to be able to digest this stuff, but it’s coming at you so fast.
Is television really no longer important?
- Sean: From a political perspective, you like your boss on TV and on the right shows. But we’re then going to take that clip and put it on Twitter and Facebook to target our most loyal supporters.
- Jason: John Waters called being on television “fame maintenance.” If you want a national profile and to reach a broader group of people, it does help.
What do you tell constituents who are coming up for a Hill Day?
- Think about your ask. Who do you want to meet with? Why you want to meet with them? What you want to talk about? Figure out who on staff works on the issues that you are advocating on – there is no point in meeting with the chief of staff on an issue that they are not an expert on. Be conscious of the staff and how offices work.
How much do research, one-pagers, and graphics help an advocacy cause?
- Sean: I like your leave-behinds before we take the meeting, so I can review it in advance. They are very helpful. But I get a lot of these leave-behinds, and there’s a difference between putting your client’s best foot forward and being deceptive. If you’re going to put it in print and hand it to a Hill staffer, make sure it’s fact-checked.
What do you like in a leave-behind?
- Sean: I don’t care what the format is, but it should be organized, concise, and to the point. I don’t know that I’ve ever relied on a visual to make a decision.
- Jason: Since so many journalists are generalists, backgrounders are helpful. A good journalist knows that a lobbyist or a staff member at a trade association is actually a font of knowledge on many issues.
What is the best way to “sell” a journalist or Hill staffer on your issue?
- Grounding everything in the district and the boss’ core priorities is important. District-centric resonance and national import will catch the ears of members and staff.
- A good story is always compelling. A vividly told narrative with political import can be related to stakeholders.
- A meeting with a Capitol Hill staffer is not storytime. If I have to figure out what you’re asking, it’s too much work.
What is the ideal follow-up to a good meeting?
- Sean: Add context to your follow up note to demonstrate that you’re talking with other people who are engaged in the space. It’s your bill, so it’s your job to build consensus. I respect people who follow up and say that they’re doing X, Y, and Z to advance their cause.
Jason: I like a personal follow up, and a thank-you post on Twitter. The public recognition is nice.