Plant tours are a lot of fun for visitors. Despite the extra work plant tours create, a tour can be a very effective way to “put a face” on your business.
A plant tour will make your representative familiar with what you do and the problems you face. Spending quality time with your representative will build a relationship that is much deeper and stronger than you could ever achieve through the mail or over the telephone. Even if your legislator opposes your views on some key issues, he’ll be more receptive to your point of view after meeting- it’s hard to stay mad at someone you’ve broken bread with. Last but not least, a plant tour puts your representative in your debt, however slightly.
Here’s how to set one up:
- Find out who is in charge of your representative’s schedule.Contact their office. It is a fact of political life that no Congressman and very few state elected officials make their own appointments and keep their own schedules. Once you find out who handles the scheduling, you can direct your communication to that person.
- Send a written invitation.Schedulers love paper trails, and your invitation will be less likely to be lost in the crowd if it is in writing. If you issue your invitation over the phone or in person, send a written follow up. Failure to do so will almost always guarantee a “no show.”
- Be as flexible as possible.Propose a range of dates for the visit. Legislators are very busy people, and their schedules can change on very little notice. Find out from the scheduler when your representative will be in the district, and try to dovetail your invitation with your representative’s schedule.
- Make the plant visit attractive for your representative.Making a visit attractive doesn’t mean a new coat of paint for the building, it means catering to the needs of your representative. Elected officials are always looking towards the next election, which means they are always looking for votes and campaign dollars. The more constituents they can meet in one place, the happier they usually are. Make sure your representative knows he will meet the people who work at your plant in a congenial setting.
- Offer travel arrangements.Your representative may not know how to get to your plant, or may lack the means of getting there. At a minimum, you can offer to drive him from his office or the nearest airport. Don’t offer to pay for transportation unless you can afford to (remember he may be traveling with a group of aides), and there may be prohibitions against cash reimbursements, so check with your legal counsel before paying.
- Be persistent.Don’t give up if you are unable to schedule your representative on your first try. Time pressures often force changes in the schedule, and even with the best of intentions, cancellations have to occur. Be gracious and understanding, and don’t be afraid to call and write again. Politics and lobbying are not for the faint of heart.
The Visit Itself
Now that you’ve got a date and a commitment, you are ready to plan to make the visit a success for both you and your legislator. Here is a short checklist of things to keep in mind:
- Prepare a fact sheet about your company.Include important information such as the number of employees in your company, size of payroll, amount of taxes paid, other plant locations, community services, awards (assuming you have a few), information about key employees and useful information about your products. This will give your representative a thumbnail sketch of your business.
- Arrange for a photographer.You’ll want photos of the visit for your internal communications and your representative will be appreciative as well.
- If appropriate, notify the local media.Check with the representative’s press secretary, and see if they have any objection to notifying the press. If you notify the press, they might show up, so be sure you can handle the spotlight of publicity.
- Notify employees of the tour’s date and time.Everyone wants to put his best foot forward when meeting important people, and you should allow people leeway in cleaning up and preparing for the visit. If appropriate, include a union or employee representative as part of the group who will greet and escort the elected official through the plant.
- Prepare a holding room for your visitor(s).Set aside a place to make phone calls, or just rest and relax, for your guests. In all probability, your representative has just come from one meeting and will go to another after the plant tour. Providing a little hospitality will make the day easier, and might make you a friend. Be sure to offer the group some of your candy!
- Set aside time for discussion.Either at the end or the beginning of a tour, set aside some time for you and, possibly, your key people to sit down for some frank face-to-face dialogue. The only way you’ll get your points across during a plant tour is if you have your representative’s full attention- it’s hard to concentrate over the noise of the machinery. As in the Personal Visit, be concise and to the point.
- Pick your tour guides carefully.If you conduct the tour yourself, make sure you know the people you’ll be seeing, because your representative will expect to be introduced. If you rely on others to lead the tour, make sure they understand the purpose of the visit. Be sure to end the visit on a positive note, thanking the legislator for coming. Have a bag of candy samples ready for him as a take away.
- Follow up the visit.Send a letter thanking the legislator for touring your facility, and use the opportunity to reinforce whatever points you made during your tour. Because of the vast amounts of competing information, you can’t emphasize your positions too much. Be sure to include a copy of the pictures you took so he can use them in his own newsletter or display them in his office.
Continue to stay in touch on issues to keep the relationship current and relevant.