Grassroots Advocacy: "I Talk to Congress, But Are They Listening?"
- By Mark B. Leita
- Aug 01, 2011
Over the years, you have heard industry experts explain how to effectively
educate members of Congress. For some, this is a fairly simple
process. Keep the message crisp, stay on point (don't get down in the
weeds), have a one-page position paper, and always ask for their support.
But have you ever gotten the feeling that the information you are
discussing is of no interest to them? Or that the glazed look indicates
maybe they don't understand the complexity of the issues affecting the
industry? Maybe, just maybe you need to call in reinforcements.
Helping Stakeholders to Internalize Your Message
There is a huge misperception about the Medicare power mobility benefit.
Most people have not internalized how this particular benefi t has transformed
thousands of lives per year.
For example, did you know that an economics study states that there
is a 3-to-1 return on investment back to the federal government when
patients use power mobility?
When you explain how a power wheelchair is an alternative to an institutional
setting, do you explain how the technology has advanced over
the last 15 years? When you describe the patients you serve, do you
describe the chronic conditions they suffer from? These are just a few of
the messages that are important to tell Congress. But it's not just Congress
that needs to understand it...it's the people in your community.
Your community must believe in the value-added services you provide.
Build trust within the community, and they'll return the favor. How?
First, build a relationship with local business organizations. These organizations
help establish credibility for your company. For instance, one of
the best allies any company can have is the local chamber of commerce. In this financial environment, the chamber wants its local businesses to
prosper. They can help promote your company to the community, give you
opportunities to serve on chamber committees, and participate in local
events. However, it is important that this organization not only understand
your work and the industry you serve, but also the issues that your business
With the advancements of technology, the power of the pen has taken
on a whole new meaning. The local media can be a soundboard and
messenger. Encourage them to write articles about issues that could affect
your patients, your business, and the community. Op-eds make for a good
communication tool to help the community understand legislative or regulatory
changes (and you tell the story your way). Issue press releases about
your company's achievements, awards, donations of medical products and
services or new business partnerships. The more people understand your
value, the more they can be a resource in the future.
Finally, invite members of Congress for a tour of your business. It is
important that they appreciate not only the hard work that goes into caring
for their constituents, but the costs associated with running your business.
If you work with Medicare patients, explain the costs related to adhering
to all Medicare requirements or what it takes to care for a patient in their
home. Even though you may be hosting a
federal official, you may consider inviting
local and state officials to take the tour
with you. One of your greatest assets is
credibility. Local leaders will always plug
your business as being a vital part of the
community. This will help convince them to
take an interest in the well-being of your
company, as well as the industry.
Clearly, the more the public, business
organizations, elected officials and the
people that you serve learn about your
operation and your values, the better positioned
you will be to fend off attacks on the
Engage a Silent Partner
Now that you have engaged the local
media, your community and elected officials, there needs to be focus on your silent
partner... your patient.
Seniors are a sure way to capture
Congress' attention. Medicare patients rely
on your business to receive the products
and services that allow them to live independently at home. If there are
legislative or regulatory changes on the horizon, it is imperative that you
engage them. And members of Congress listen to our nation's aging population.
Why? According to a 2010 Gallup poll, 61 percent of voters in the
2010 elections were over 50 years old.
One way to engage your patient is to create a grassroots newsletter
campaign. Newsletters are an effective way to educate your patients on a
variety of topics, including issues that could infl uence your ability to deliver
products and services to their home. Moreover, newsletters can lead to
“calls to action,” a valuable way to engage your patient.
How to Launch Your Own Newsletter
Getting started can be a fairly simple process. Here are some tips to create
an effective grassroots newsletter for your company:
1. Focus on the issues at hand:
Whether it is competitive bidding,
elimination of the fi rst-month purchase option, the medical device tax or
power wheelchair audits, it is important to fi nd the right message that
piques your patient's attention. Some of the issues suppliers face can be
too complicated for the layperson to understand. Just like educating a
member of Congress, you want to keep the message simple, yet crisp.
What is it that you want them to know and why?
2. Create a plan of action:
Identify the best course of action. One of the
most effective ways to get Congress to listen is to have your patients write
a letter or call their member of Congress. Medicare benefi ciaries are very
passionate. With the right information, they can truly set the tone.
And never miss an opportunity to ask them to thank their member of
Congress for everything they are doing to preserve their Medicare benefits.
3. Establish useful tips:
As a business owner, you care for your patients'
well-being. That level of care undoubtedly goes beyond the products
and services you provide.
You can provide added value to your patients by providing them with useful facts, figures and information. For example, provide them information
about fall prevention and fall-related statistics, tips to avoid Medicare
fraud, or focus on an awareness month (e.g., Arthritis Month or MS
An effective newsletter can be an inexpensive, yet invaluable to your
business. By setting aside a small budget for print and postage, you can
educate your patients and members of Congress at the same time.
You may want to consider e-mailing the newsletter to your patient, if
applicable. While e-mail is considered cost effective, it also allows the
reader to advance the information to other interested parties. At the same
time, post each newsletter on your company Web site. Computer usage
among Americans 65 years and older has doubled in the past 10 years.
There is a good chance that not only do you capture your patient's attention,
but also the attention of outside readers, such as caregivers, at the
Lastly, send a copy of the newsletter to the member of Congress' office.
Members appreciate understanding the information being sent to their
constituents, especially if you are asking your patient to offer thanks!
Remember, it all starts with you. The more effort you put into your business,
the more successful you will be. Grassroots advocacy is no different.
This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of Mobility Management.
Mark B. Leita is VP of external relations & government affairs for The SCOOTER Store. He leads the company's Congressional and gubernatorial lobbying efforts on federal legislative matters while managing the corporate political action committee and its activities in Washington, D.C. Leita is also responsible for directing national grassroots campaigns.