The Dos and Don’ts for Advocacy Meetings on Capitol Hill

September 30, 2015 by

capitol hill

I just finished an exhausting, but incredibly productive, day on Capitol Hill this week with a novice but passionate group of professionals affiliated with a leading nonprofit health care organization.

They were executing their inaugural “Day on Capitol Hill,” and they hired me to set up meetings, plan a bipartisan briefing over lunch with a senator an
d prepare their “constituent advocates” to be comfortable with the messages and logistics of House and Senate protocol.

The client asked me to put together a list of the best practices in advocacy and to present it to the 62 staff and volunteers who agreed to spend the day lobbying for a worthy cause. I had given this same presentation many times over the years, and the timeless dos and don’ts are essential for both advocacy veterans and beginners.


  • Bring business cards — they are the currency of Capitol Hill.
  • Be on time. We all love to talk and you need to observe the five-minute rule of being early or late.
  • Accept that there can be changes in who we meet with; surprises are a given!
  • Be prepared for the member of Congress to walk by and join the meeting. I cannot tell you how many times clients have been on their phone or reading, and the representative or senator has scooted by them (a missed opportunity).
  • Have a chief spokesman who leads and guides each meeting.
  • Have three key messages in your presentation. Let experts or those who know the most tell each story.
  • Tell the most important things first, and emphasize the call to action or “ask.”
  • Offer short, impactful stories and anecdotes to make your points that back up each key message.
  • Gently ask if the senator or representative is likely to help with the “ask.”
  • Know the answer is usually “yes,” but it matters greatly what level of “yes” you are able to secure in each meeting.
  • Take pictures in a respectful way. It is appropriate to ask permission first — most offices like tweets or Facebook posts about their responsiveness.
  • Complete an evaluation after every meeting so your organization can gauge the effectiveness of our visits and follow up appropriately.
  • Last, but not least, wear comfortable shoes (and your FitBit) as there is a great deal of walking between meetings.


  • Make assumptions about who does what in a congressional office. I have seen clients brush off the chief of staff and spend far too much time with the staff assistant.
  • Leave the sound on your iPhone on, or use it during a meeting.
  • Let the noise and hustle bustle in the smaller congressional offices distract you.
  • Interrupt a member of Congress or staff person, let alone someone in your group.
  • Rustle your papers and read from your notes verbatim.
  • Answer questions that you do not know the answer to. It is OK to say, “I will research that and get back to you.”
  • Look at the clock on the wall or your wristwatch, as if you are bored.

My group exceeded all expectations, and I appreciated that they listened and learned from a former Capitol Hill aide who still remembers how I liked to be treated when constituents or advocates visited.

While most of my work is at the federal level in Congress, these tips are applicable in state capitals as well.

Those of us who represent clients seeking government action know “constituents come first,” and their active engagement during in-person meetings and other communications is the most effective way to convey our point of view. That is why we need to help them understand the proper rules of engagement.


mikeGuest blogger Michael Fulton is director of public affairs and advocacy for the Asher Agency in Washington, D.C. He teaches public affairs in the WVU Reed College of Media’s Integrated Marketing Communications program. Email:

Brand Equity

September 24, 2015 by

I’m excited to say that I’ve just finished my third class in the IMC program—IMC 613 Brand Equity Management. Time is flying quickly, and I have learned a lot so far!


The final project for IMC 613 was a brand audit.  A brand audit examines a specific brand’s strengths and weakness and its position within the marketplace. To conduct a brand audit, you need to study how the business manages and positions the brand portfolio and how consumers’ view that brand. Additionally, you need to examine the competition. By conducting this research and analysis, you can uncover what opportunities exist for the brand and what improvements need to be made.

Through the final project, I learned what a brand audit can help you discover about a brand. These are a few examples of the type of information I uncovered when I conducted a brand audit on a challenger brand:

  1. The disconnects between the company’s view of its brand versus the actual customer perceptions of the brand
  2. Unnecessary product/line extensions
  3. Inconsistencies amongst the brand’s marketing and positioning efforts/programs
  4. A lack of a strong, unifying brand mantra
  5. Sources of the brand’s strengths
  6. The target audience’s actual feelings and thoughts about the brand’s products and the competitor’s products

As you can see, the information gained from conducting a brand audit proves to be extremely useful for a business. If you took the class, do you have any experiences with conducting your brand audit project that you wish to share?

Flex that Creative Muscle—Work out your Imagination!

September 15, 2015 by

I’m a runner. More often than not, you’ll find me running countless laps around my neighborhood right after work. But, I didn’t always enjoy running. In fact, I used to be very bad at it. Back in high school, I would struggle to complete a mile in less than 15 minutes. However, after many years of conditioning and long runs, I have no problem running 5+ miles! Years of daily, hard aerobic workouts paid off, and now my mile time is around 8 minutes.

I believe it is also equally important to actively “work out” your mind. Depending on the type of mind exercises you do, you can improve your creativity and/or analytical thinking. As members of the marketing field, we need both creative and analytical thinking skill sets. So, why not set aside time to work out our minds so that we can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our creative and analytical thinking?


Specifically, since I am currently in IMC 615 Creative Strategy, I want to focus on how to improve creativity. I wanted to share a few things that I personally do to exercise my mind. These “mind exercises” have helped me to become more creative and imaginative:

  1. Change your mindset. Switch from a “I can’t” way of thinking to a “what if?” mindset. This allows you to see a problem or a certain aspect of life from new and different angles.
  2. Daydream. There is no set way to daydream, but you should practice doing it. Personally when I daydream, I like to think of “what if’s” and turn them into detailed story plots. Therefore, daydreaming allows my mind to get better at creating stories and characters. In fact, storytelling has become very easy for me, because I daydream so much.
  3. Try something new. Break away from your routine. I like to take a Saturday trip once a month to visit a new place or State Park. Doing this opens my mind up to new experiences and new scenery.
  4. Immerse yourself in art—movies, paintings, music, sculptures, dances, theater, and novels. This allows you to see and experience other people’s perspectives and ways of thinking.
  5. Learn about other cultures and try to interact with people from those cultures. Many of us have narrow scopes and perceptions about the world; I know I did before I began traveling the U.S. and the world with the military. In fact, I once traveled to Africa for a month, and that experience opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and creativity. They had completely different lifestyles and artistic styles!

What about you? Do you have any specific “mind exercises” you do to improve your imagination and creativity? Please share!

On the Road Again

September 10, 2015 by

Traveling for work or pleasure is a great way to get out of the office and explore different areas, but it can also cause some issues when looking to further your education. When I was considering applying to the IMC program, I had several concerns about how the program would mesh with my work schedule. Finding a program that allows you to work, travel, raise a family if you choose to, and have a social life (also optional, haha) can really make a huge difference in your decision. One of the great things about the IMC program is the flexibility offered!

In my current position as an Admissions Counselor, I travel often to recruit students. During the fall, I travel for two weeks straight and attend college recruitment fairs.

As you can see, my travel season starts very soon and is jam packed!


I started the IMC program when I held another position and there were no issues, but once I started my new job I worried about how travel would effect my classes. My experience with traveling while in the IMC program has actually been fairly stress free. I have taken a few trips with friends and a few trips for work and haven’t had any issues with my classes. In my opinion, the best thing is that students are given the syllabus which lays out the entire course, assignments, discussion posts, etc. from day one and allows you to work ahead if need be.

Some tips I have for those of you who travel are:

  • Add your assignment due dates to your work calendar so you have reminders
  • Read and work on posts during your down time (lunch break, waiting at the airport, etc.)
  • Start your work early (procrastination definitely makes things difficult)
  • Be sure to email your professors and let them know you will be traveling
  • Start your day earlier! (I have found that getting up earlier and doing homework or reading before I start my work day has really helped me)

These tips not only help with managing homework, but they can be very beneficial when working on a major project at work too!

What are some tips you all have for getting things done when you have to travel?

(Featured Photo courtesy of Instagram)

Is Flat Design Here to Stay?

September 3, 2015 by

New Google logo GIF

This week, Google introduced its new logo to the world, marking the biggest visual refresh for the brand since the ’90s. And as one would imagine, it’s stirring up quite a bit of discussion in the design world.  While many elements of the design remain the same (colorful letters, the tilted ‘e’), you’ll notice two major updates in the new logo.

Sans-serif typeface

Serifs are those small lines at the end of a stroke in a letter:


In recent years, marketers have been cleaning up their logos by adopting sans-serif typefaces. The resulting image is much simpler and transfers better to constrained spaces (think: phones, smart watches).

Also, as designer Tobias Frere-Jones points out, the roundness in the letters has been accentuated, creating a more visually appealing image.

“They’ve chosen to emphasize every circle they could find, which is an effective way to create a friendly and approachable impression.”

Flattened design

Marketers are also migrating toward simplicity in color in brand elements like logos, and Google has hopped on the trend with this newly rolled out design.

This is largely in sync with the movement away from skeuomorphism, which is the concept of applying design cues from the physical world to digital, essentially trying to make things on screen look 3D. Flat designs, in contrast, make no use of shadows or gradients, embracing the limitations of the display with a two-dimensional design.

Take a look at the video Google released to announce the new logo, and share your thoughts on the new design!

Just Ask!

September 2, 2015 by

We’ve all heard the saying that the only dumb question is the one not asked. While I agree with this in principle, it’s easier said than done at times. You might be afraid of looking silly or unintelligent in front of your peers or professors. If you’re like me, I often feel like if I can’t understand something, then how is someone going to understand me asking about it; especially when I have to relay my question through an email or discussion board post.

When I first started the IMC program, I didn’t feel comfortable asking questions either on the main discussion board or via a private email to the professor. I thought I was supposed to be smart enough to figure things out and I didn’t want to bother anyone. What I have found, however, is that if I’m struggling with something it’s likely that someone else is as well. After a couple classes, I started asking questions and found the information/feedback I received from teachers and my classmates helped me in more ways than just getting the answer I was looking for. It helped because it opened up a different type of discussion with the professor or a fellow classmate. It made me feel more a part of the group and gave me confidence that I wasn’t alone in not always being sure.

Be sure to ask questions in your discussion question responses when you’d really like to know what others in the class are thinking. Not everyone will respond, but the only way to create the opportunity is to ask the question in the first place.

Whether your questions are about the lesson or about something in general that you’d like to know about the program or the business we are all studying, don’t hesitate. That’s what this course of study is all about – learning from each other and the only way to do that is to “just ask!”


“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” ― Voltaire

Harnessing the Power of Word-of-Mouth Marketing

August 18, 2015 by

Recently, I found myself on a trip for work that took me across the U.S. During the plane ride, I met an Army sergeant who was about to retire in a year and was working on his own small business. He told me that his business idea—a mobile phone app—was going to start out servicing his hometown area. He already had the programmers working on the app and he already had a target audience in mind, but he wanted to know more about how to market it during the product’s launch.

This immediately reminded me of the final paper I wrote for IMC 612 (Audience Insight).  For that paper, I chose to write about the power of electronic word-of-mouth marketing (e-WOMM) and how to use it to launch new products.

As many of us know, a significant number of new products fail. This could be due to a variety of factors such as a poorly designed product or a poorly designed marketing program.  However, if a product is designed well, meets the needs of the target audience, and is in demand, then a business needs to effectively break through the clutter and communicate the product/brand information to the target audience.

As I discovered when writing that final paper, word-of-mouth (WOM) is an effective tool to communicate this product information to the target audience. WOM involves consumers sharing information amongst each other whenever they are happy or dissatisfied with a product. Typically, traditional WOM refers to consumers physically talking to each other to share the information. e-WOM specifically involves consumers sharing this same information via the Internet through e-mail and social media. Businesses can benefit from this WOM because:

  1. Consumers perceive this WOM information as more credible when it comes from other consumers (as opposed to advertising which comes from the business)
  2. WOM (especially e-WOM) incurs very little monetary expense
  3. WOM leads to effective targeting because consumers will more likely share the product information with friends, family, and other acquaintances who have similar interests
  4. Through e-WOM specifically, information can be quickly spread to a large group of people

After discussing these points with the man on the plane, I told him how he could generate and manage e-WOM. First, I told him to become very familiar with the social media platforms that his target audience uses. Each social media platform is capable of different things, and each platform attracts a different crowd. Next, I told him to use these social media platforms (and other internet tools):

  1. To give his consumers something to talk about (i.e. good content)
  2. To create communities within his target audience and to connect them
  3. To work with influential groups/people that would interest his target audience
  4. To create advocate programs
  5. To study consumer feedback
  6. To engage consumers in open conversation
  7. To involve consumers in marketing projects

Then, after pointing out how to generate and manage e-WOMM, I talked about when the best time was to use WOMM tactics. When I was putting together that final paper for IMC 612, I discovered that using e-WOMM prior to the launch of a product was much more effective at enhancing product awareness and increasing the adoption of new products than using e-WOMM after the launch of a product or not using it at all.

Prior to the connectivity and speed of the Internet, conducting WOMM before a product launch was not as feasible. In fact, traditionally what would happen was that a product would be released, consumers would purchase it, and then consumers would talk about it. Now, however, the Internet has allowed businesses to efficiently share information about the product prior to its release and consumers can start having conversations with each other about it. In fact, consumers don’t even have to be on the same continent anymore to have these conversations!

Finally, I pointed out to the man on the plane that WOMM should not be the only marketing communications tool utilized for his product launch. It is very effective, but it should be incorporated with other marketing tools.

Creating Content on the Go

August 3, 2015 by


As marketers, we are often responsible for creating new content that is visually appealing. I recently stumbled upon an app called Enlight that allows users to edit photos on their iPhone or iPad. Enlight has several attractive features that you can find in other apps, but combines them into one easy to use app. I like to think of it as PhotoShop for your phone. While the app does cost $3.99 in the app store, it is well worth the cost! This app is great for people who work with social media and those who work on the creative side of marketing. Some of the features include:

  • Filters
  • Adding decals and text to photos
  • An “Insta Fit” feature for those photos that won’t normally fit
  • Frames and collages
  • Paint and drawing effects
  • Reshaping effects to alter the image and create some abstract art
  • Cropping, refitting, and adjusting the exposure, colors, and clarity

Here are a few examples of work from the Enlight website:

Enlight DecalsEnlight Painting Enlight Cropping

Those are just some of the features available with Enlight. This app really comes in handy when you’re traveling for work or don’t have access to a computer and need to create a new photo to use for a post or advertisement. I definitely recommend it for all you Instagram lovers out there! Whether your job requires you to work with graphics and design or if you just love to share and edit photos, Enlight is a great tool you should add to your app collection!

Learning from failure

July 29, 2015 by

I’ll be 50 years young in the fall and am in my second year of the program. Starting back to school was a pretty daunting idea for me. It’s been several years since I’ve had to study and write papers so I wasn’t sure I could actually do it. I challenged myself to work hard and try to finish the program with a 4.0 or as close as I could come to it. So far, I’m on track to do just that; however, the course I just completed (my 7th) not only served as a great learning experience about IMC, it also served as a learning experience for dealing with potential failure.

I’ve typically done well throughout all of my classes. My goal is always to get full points for the weekly discussion questions and not having many points taken off for the weekly papers as well as the final papers. In the class I just finished, however, I had a major blow when I received a grade of 4 out of 15 on one of my weekly papers. I was truly devastated because this wasn’t what I was used to and wasn’t what I expected out of myself. I even cried when I got the grade and was embarrassed to tell anyone. I felt like I had failed myself and let the people who support me down. Not necessarily because of the grade, but because I had made a major mistake when writing the paper. I didn’t pay close enough attention to what I was doing and was hurrying to get my paper written. I was tired, a bit overwhelmed and just wanted to get it out of the way. I chose the wrong type of research paper to discuss resulting in the low score.

I talked to the professor about how disappointed I was in myself and got some great encouragement. I also talked to some of my support system and, after a couple days, realized it wasn’t the end of the world. I needed to just take a step back and a couple days off from school work so I could get back on track. I hadn’t really taken a total break from studying and school in over a year and I was just burned out. Luckily this happened on a week when there wasn’t a paper due on Monday so it was a little bit easier to do, so I took the entire weekend off from school. I didn’t read or write anything for two days other than checking the discussion board to see if I needed to respond to any classmates from the weekly discussion responses.

Why am I sharing this experience? I have a feeling that most of us who are in this program are overachievers and put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do well. I am definitely one of those people. What I learned with this (and hope you can too) is that sometimes we need to give ourselves a break. We need to step back, take a break and let our minds and bodies catch up with where we are. Getting a low score on something isn’t the end of the world in this program. It’s the way we learn about the program and about ourselves. It’s definitely a wake-up call that maybe you need to change something, whether that be how you’re doing your research, needing to ask more questions of the professor about what they expect or want, or just taking a little breather from school. Be sure to listen to yourself during this process and know when you need to take that step back. It will make you a better student and give you better insight on what to do or not to do next. By the way, I learned from my mistake and was still able to get an “A” in the class.

                                                                                         quote for blog

5 Tips for a Successful Fall Semester

July 27, 2015 by

I hope you are all enjoying your summer and getting excited about the upcoming fall semester!  At the risk of appearing to rush into the 2015-2016 school year, I wanted to share a few tips to start thinking about to ensure success this fall.

1.  Order your textbooks early

There’s nothing worse than waiting on your textbook to arrive while your first assignment’s due date is looming (okay, there are several worse things that can happen, but just thinking about this does make me sweat).  Avoid the stress by ordering your textbooks early using your preferred method, and thank yourself when it arrives prior to the first day of class.

*Hint: the deadline to use financial aid for course books is August 4! Details on STAR.

2.  Explore eCampus

Once your courses have been made available on eCampus, take some time to browse the course content, messages from your professors, and posted resources.  Then, read the syllabus.  And after that, read it again.  Familiarize yourself with the intended learning outcomes, assignment schedule, and grading process, and take time to brainstorm what you will be able to bring to the conversation.  Entering a class with a firm understanding of the course structure is a sure-fire way to begin the semester on the right foot.

3. Create a schedule

Life is a balancing act, and some elements hold more weight than others.  Juggling work, school, family life, etc. will require some prioritization and much organization.  A new year is a new opportunity to approach the semester with a plan.  Consider all due dates listed for each course and develop a cadence that suits your lifestyle.  Leave room for flexibility and the inevitable fact that things come up, but do your best to commit to your plan.

4.  Set goals

“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.”  -Tony Robbins

I don’t think I need to stress the importance of this one.  Setting goals is crucial in attaining success.  This semester, decide what you want to get out of the courses you’re taking.  Write these goals down, or perhaps even mention them in your introductory discussion post.  Documenting goals is the surest way to keep yourself accountable for them. Whether it’s to achieve a particular grade, apply concepts to your current work, or bring meaningful insight to the table, be sure that your goals meet the SMART criteria:






5.  Make connections

During the first week of class, be sure to carefully read through your peers’ introductions and draw any connections you can, and share enough about yourself to give others the opportunity to do the same.  Finding common ground with those you’ll be working with for nine weeks is an excellent way to lay a solid foundation for future discussions.  Thoughtfully drawing back to references made in the introductory forum will surely enhance the conversation and pave the way for networking beyond the confines of the [virtual] classroom.  Apply this same concept with your professors, as they continue to be excellent resources long after the semester’s end.

What advice do you have for easing into a new semester?  Share your tips here!


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