The Public Diplomacy Council’s mission statement commits PDC to promoting excellence in professional practice, academic study, and advocacy for public diplomacy.
Advocacy — effectively making the case for public diplomacy in legislative, policy, and public circles — is central to our work.
In Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High Impact Nonprofits Heather Grant and Leslie Crutchfield argue that advocacy is one of six functions essential to a successful nonprofit. Delivering services is not enough; to be truly effective, an organization must shape the public policy arena in which those services are delivered. Whether the goal is to influence budgets, regulations, or the views of decision-makers, advocacy is a fundamental tool of successful organizations.
PDC members constitute a unique advocacy resource: skilled communicators with deep experience in the study and/or practice of public diplomacy. Without exception, our members can make what former Librarian of Congress James Billington described as “the hard case for the soft stuff” with depth and authority.
A basic approach to advocacy
Like so much else in life, successful advocacy is based on relationships.
When we need advice about a new tax accountant, a plumber, or a better way to roast a chicken, we most often turn to a trusted relative, friend or neighbor.
Congressional offices get plenty of unsolicited policy suggestions, but like the rest of us, they most value input from people they know and trust.
When Mike took over as Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange (with a thinly funded staff of four), a close friend who was head lobbyist at the National Association of Realtors (largest Political Action Committee in the United States and a staff of 40-plus), gave him this advice: “We have the resources to make political contributions and you don’t. But in the end, advocacy comes down to relationships.”
Think of it this way: If there’s an imminent crisis for public diplomacy – a drastic cut in exchange funding, an adverse revision of visa policy, or an unwelcome restructuring of broadcasting – you are more likely to get the attention of a Congressional office if that office already knows you, your background, and your expertise. Congressional offices depend on trusted informants, and the most effective informants, for obvious reasons, are usually their constituents.
When you ask Members to cast a vote to support your preferred outcome, you are asking them to invest a bit of their political capital. Are they likely to make that investment for a stranger?
Therefore, an effective advocate needs to build a relationship with a Congressional office.
If you are advocating for an aspect of public diplomacy, the Congressional staffer you need to know is your Member’s foreign affairs legislative assistant (LA in Hill parlance).
It is easy to identify these staffers. Just call the Washington office of your Representative or Senator, and ask to speak with the foreign affairs LA. You’ll likely be asked to identify yourself and why you are calling, and you’ll then get to talk with the LA or his/her voice mail.
You can find the phone numbers of individual offices on Member websites. You can also call the U.S. Capitol switchboard to be connected with Senate and House offices:
House switchboard: 202-225-3121
Senate switchboard: 202-224-3121
Once you get the office on the phone, make note of the LA’s name, because having the name will give you the email address in most cases.
House email convention: firstname.lastname@example.org
Senate email convention: email@example.com
There will be a few cases where staffers will customize their names in the email address, but in most cases, these formulae will work. You can also confirm the email address with the staffer or the receptionist.
When you reach out to a House or Senate staffer, make sure you have something substantive to discuss. Staffers are exceptionally busy and they may not find value in a ‘getting to know you’ conversation. But if you have an issue to address, they’ll listen. And, working in some relevant personal questions — Are you from the state/district? How did you happen to get the foreign affairs portfolio (international relations major, study abroad, other overseas experience)? —can help build connections.
Another way to connect or maintain a relationship is to send an LA short pieces relevant to your issue from the local press.
Write a letter to the editor of your local paper on your issue – great if it gets printed, but if not, you can still send it — “Here’s a letter I submitted to The Daily Bugle on the issue”.
And if it’s hard to break into print in your media market, you could write and post a piece on the Public Diplomacy Council blog, and forward the link.
Another way to build a relationship – if you are so inclined – is to contribute to the Member’s campaign. This is usually more effective with a House Member (you’re more likely to be noticed), and best if you can attend a small fundraiser in the home district. Be sure to introduce yourself to the Member, and to mention the name of the staffer. Many years ago, Sherry first got to know former Congressman Jim Moran by bidding on a breakfast with him at a Fundraiser/Auction for the Arlington Symphony.
All the foregoing comes with a caveat — most Hill staffers are young, talented, and upwardly mobile. Job turnover is continual, and as you start down the advocacy path, know that you are likely to find yourself meeting a new foreign affairs LA every 18 months or so.
NAFSA’s former executive director, Marlene Johnson, once said that “Advocacy is part of everyone’s job description”.
We agree. We hope that every PDC member will speak out on the issues that concern you most, and that together, we make ‘the hard case’ for public diplomacy.
Coauthored by PDC President Sherry Mueller and PDC Board Member Michael McCarry.
Sherry L. Mueller, Ph.D. is the President of the Public Diplomacy Council. She serves as Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at the School of International Service (SIS), American University, Washington, D.C. She teaches an undergraduate course and a graduate Practicum entitled Cultural Diplomacy and International Exchange. Dr. Mueller provided leadership for the National Council for International Visitors (now Global Ties U.S.) since 1996, first as Executive Director and then as President until September 30, 2011.
Michael McCarry served for 21 years as Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange, an association of U.S. exchange sponsors. Earlier, as a USIA Foreign Service Officer, he served overseas in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Beijing, and in Washington as staff director of the Bureau for Educational and Cultural Affairs. He currently serves as Senior Advisor to Cenet, a Missouri-based exchange sponsor, and as a trustee of the EF Foundation.