Tips for an Effective Lobbying Visit


In late May, IEC offered a webinar featuring Former Congressman Tom Graves (R-GA) and IEC Vice President, Government Affairs Jason Todd titled, Holding an Effective Lobbyist Visit. The duo offered insight into what it takes to hold a meeting with your senators and representatives. While Tom spoke from his perspective as a national representative, similar principles and strategies can be applied with state legislatures. 

The webinar is summarized below and IEC members can listen to the recording on the IEC website. 

Tom repeatedly emphasized that your overall meeting objective is to foster a conversation and environment that best enables a future working relationship. They welcome seeing a face from back home.

“We love that you have come to visit and that you are prepared. You are there to connect with an office, not to take a photo or to say that you did it,” he indicates. “When constituents came to me, I wanted to know how I could help. I expected the conversations to end with an ask.” 

He said your legislators understand that you are taking time away from your business because you have something important to share with your member of Congress.  

“You’re taking time away from what you do day in and day out to express your interest, your support, and your concerns about something that impacts you and your workforce,” Tom says. “This is very valuable to us. You came to affirm something the House or Senate is working on — an initiative that is important to you, tell us how it is helpful or if it was modified a little bit, it would be more helpful, or share how detrimental it might be to what you’re doing and the jobs you’re providing back in the district.” 

He expressed the difference between lobbying on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. and lobbying back home in your district. 

“Capitol Hill is where the policies happen; it is where the decisions are made on the policy front,” he says. “Back in the district, it’s largely constituent based services — we are an interface with the federal government. The invitation to have an elected official come to your workplace or your jobsite is appreciated because we get to see the process and to understand it better. I always enjoyed those as I’d get to meet the most interesting individuals and learn about things I never knew about.” 


General Guidance 

  • Appropriate attire is business attire 
  • Anticipate short meetings (20 minutes) and a lot of walking 
  • Foster a conversation and environment that best enables a future working relationship 
  • Meeting with staff vs. meeting with your member of Congress happens often

“Time is valuable, and it is very limited, and calendars move around a lot,” Tom says. “The day is laid out the day before but probably 60% of it shifts during the day as things occur. This may result in only a staff member attending your meeting. But I have to tell you the people I hired were people I trusted. Staff has that authority and understanding of the issues to make decisions on behalf of the boss. When you are meeting with staff, you are meeting with a trust agent of the member of the House or the Senate and that is as valuable in my mind as meeting with the elected official.” 


Meeting Logistics / Flow 

  • Introductions 
  • Discuss IEC and your chapter 
  • Total members / apprentices 
  • Identify issues 
  • Close with the ask, thank you, and invite to chapter or jobsite 

“It’s so important to make that connection,” Tom stresses. “Establish the relationship, make your ask, be organized and succinct. Don’t feel you have to run out the clock; give us a break if all has been said. We’ve been briefed on the issue and now want to hear your stories, your passion, and your support or lack of support so we can connect with it. Then we’ll want to ask some questions.” 

Tom shared that he learned members of Congress are actually in airports and airplanes one more day a year than they are in D.C. Realize that members of Congress have busy, limited, and unpredictable schedules so be flexible with your time. 

“When I was in Congress, I was in D.C. two full days a week every two or three weeks,” he explains. “Those two days are jammed with job duties. When I was there, we were able to carve out about two hours a day for office meetings — at the most — for 20-minute slots. That means I could schedule five or six, 20-minute meetings a day — and that’s without me taking a break for the restroom or lunch. That’s not sustainable. You have a meeting slot, and that tells you you’re valuable. There are five slots that day, and you got one. Always remember they chose you for that. Use it well, use it wisely, enjoy the moment.” 


More Tips 

  • Be prepared and have a game plan 
  • Designate a leader and who is going to say what 
  • Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” 
  • Be specific and personal 
  • Describe your small business 
  • State the impact of the issue on your operation / jobs 
  • Tell your story 
  • Don’t discuss politics, campaigns, or personal support or contributions 
  • Don’t opine on current events, social issues, or party politics 
  • Don’t interrupt a member of Congress or staff member 
  • Never argue or raise your voice 

“You may visit with an office who is in disagreement with you,” Tom explains. “Don’t create an enemy; don’t argue. You want to understand so say ‘help me understand your position a little better.’ Have respect for disagreement or a different position. Be open-minded.  

“Make no assumptions about where a person is on an issue unless you have factual knowledge,” he continues. “He should have an open mind and be able to articulate ‘you know that’s something that’s just not good for my district’ and then you have an understanding for the next time you meet them.” 

Tom says you can bring it up again the next time, acknowledge that you respect the opinion, and ask if there has been any change. Then say, but here’s another topic we think you might be able to help us with — and the process begins again.  


About Tom Graves 

As a north Georgia country boy, Tom’s life has been fueled by one slogan his father shared with him: Dream Big, Work Hard, and Achieve Much. 

He’s been a small business owner, a real estate investor, a Georgia state representative, and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. As a U.S. representative for more than a decade, he prioritized relationship building, pursuing creative solutions and executable strategies to address some of the biggest challenges facing our country, placing him in the center of all major policy decisions in Washington. 

While representing one of the most Republican districts in the country, he also was respected as one of the most bi-partisan members of Congress.