John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The Know-Yers

Posted on February 4, 2011
I gave a little talk to about one hundred brand new legislative directors at an event at the Ripon Society and I thought I would share what I said with you.

Jim Counzelman, a very good friend and the President of Ripon, asked me to give these new staffers some solid advice on how to work with their press secretaries and their bosses to come up with a effective communications strategy. The title of the panel was called: “A Clever Title is Not Enough.”

I told the assembled crowd my 10 know-yers that every staffer should know before they embark on any kind legislative communications strategy.

Here are the ten:

1.  Know-yer member: Is your member a show-horse or a work-horse? Do they want to move markets or do they want to move Glen Beck to tears? Do they want to see their names in the gossip pages or do they want to have legislation named after them?

2.  Know-yer constituency? What do the people back home want? What industry drives the district? What does Main Street care about?

3.  Know-yer political base? What do your most ardent supporters care about? What about the people who carry the signs, make the phone calls and give you the money? You can’t afford to cross them.

4.  Know-yer moment in history: For example, this is not the time to ask for more earmarked projects. Know where things stand in the big scheme of things. It will help you know where your member fits in.

5.  Know-yer subject matter: If you have your boss introduce a law, make damn sure that you know all the implications of that law. Something that might sound good to some lobbyist might be completely terrible in the real world. Not every idea is a good idea, and unwise pieces of law tend to have a big and adverse impact on society.

6.  Know-yer opponents: Every legislative move has an opponent. Sometimes they are your political rivals, sometimes they are your friends, sometimes it is industry, sometimes it is labor and sometimes (and usually) it is the Senate. Understand that opposition is coming. Be ready for it and understand where they are coming from.

7.  Know-yer message: If you can’t explain why you are doing something in 30 seconds, you have already lost the argument. Get your elevator pitch down pat before you test drive your new bill.

8.  Know-yer reporters: The news media will be instrumental in either passing this law or killing it. Know the folks who are you are trying to sell this law to.

9.  Know-yer long-term strategy: Passing a bill into law takes a lot of time and effort. Make sure that the effort is part of a longer effort to brand who your boss is. A member of Congress has only so much time to waste in every day. Make sure he isn’t wasting it on non-sense.

10.  Know-yer place: Being a staff member to one of 435 members of Congress is a great honor and a high privilege. But it doesn’t make you a king. It is important to have the proper sense of humility in these jobs, because after all, they are service jobs. That means you serve the people. The people don’t serve you.