Key communications takeaways from 2021’s virtual legislative session

As we roll into the thick of the 2021 legislative session, it is clear that the original, short-term novelty of governing and lobbying in a virtual environment has worn off for many. While the Senate has shifted to a hybrid model of both in-person and virtual work, the House continues to operate remotely, as do most people who are otherwise usually physically present at the Capitol this time of year.

Legislating remotely accomplishes its goal of keeping people home and safe from exposure to COVID-19. But as the length of time spent virtually tuning into committees grows, so too does frustration. Constituents and advocates are finding it difficult to participate in virtual hearings and committees as legislative staff experience delays in bill drafting and legislators spend extra precious time sourcing accurate, comprehensive information – all while facing increased pressure and needs from everyone.

Paired with no formal back-to-the-Capitol date in sight, these challenges have made it easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure. Below are my top takeaways from this virtual session so far, with observations on how to best work and communicate with the people you need to make a positive impact on this session.

1. Everything takes longer.

One of the challenges of any legislative session is the timeline in which work needs to happen. Session is only about five months long and there is a lot of work that needs to get done in that time. With hallway conversations and quick post-meeting debriefs being a thing of the past, communicating, negotiating and responding to complex topics takes much longer than it used to. Persisting through this challenge can be mind-numbing, but stick to respectful follow ups and be comfortable with timelines beyond your control.

2. Some things change, while others stay the same.

It used to be incredibly taboo to call or text a legislator or staff person unless there was a five-alarm fire in their district. While it is still important to be respectful in the use of those precious cell phone numbers, use them. Legislators, like the rest of us, are doing their level best to respond and keep up with the information coming their way. They may actually appreciate a gentle text nudge if something has slipped their mind.

3. Email is key.

While their inboxes are certainly full, email still seems to be most effective way to reach legislators and staff. When you write your email, make sure it is scannable, to-the-point and that your ask is featured either in the subject line or the first sentence – this helps incentivize a faster reply. That said, it will likely be a while before you get a response. Be patient.

4. Create compelling materials.

There are literally volumes of information coming at legislators and staff every day. Written testimony and materials are being encouraged during this virtual time to help manage this. Remember that legislators and staff are real people, too, and that they gravitate toward what’s interesting and new. Think carefully about your testimony, whether delivered in person or in writing. What unique perspective are you bringing to the table? Showcase that. Can you effectively deliver your message through an original, creative presentation? Do that.

5. Remember we are all human.

Keep sight of the huge pressure legislators have in putting together a $50 billion state budget from the isolation of their living room, away from their colleagues and staff while feeling like they have limited information and pressure from all kinds of places. Understanding where they are at mentally and managing expectations from there is incredibly important, not only for calculating your next tactic, but also for extending the grace and empathy that many need during this particularly difficult time.

Celebrating 25 years at Goff Public: Heidi Larson

February 4 marked an exciting milestone at Goff Public this month – our Chief Financial Officer Heidi Larson celebrated her 25th work anniversary! While so much about our work has changed through this time, Heidi’s dedication to her clients and our company has been constant.

In the spirit of reminiscing, we asked Heidi to reflect on her time at Goff Public. Check out what has both changed and remained the same in her answers below.

How did you originally find out about Goff Public?

I responded to a print ad for an account executive in the Star Tribune. I think the ad was only two lines long!

What has been your biggest accomplishment in your career with Goff Public?

There have been lots of highlights, but what has brought me the most satisfaction is solving problems and continually learning. I’ve had the chance to see inside so many industries and companies and I’ve been able to work with hundreds of different people and clients. Every opportunity is a chance to learn and apply that knowledge to future projects and issues.

Over the past 25 years, what has changed about Goff Public and what has stayed the same?

Although the faces of our team have changed, the culture, creativity and excellence that Bob Goff seeded in the firm have only continued to grow and blossom.

From an industry perspective, a lot has changed. When I first started in the public relations business, my job consisted of clipping physical newspapers, downloading clip art from CDs, feeding press releases into a fax machine, and taking copious notes about strategies and ideas (most of them from Bob Goff). That all seems so antiquated today.

Yet while our technologies and modes of communications have drastically changed – a fair amount of our craft has not. Media relations (now more on screens than in print) continues to bolster or harm reputations, images and graphics still need to capture people’s attention (but now in less than a second), and the speed of sharing information continues to increase. Through all of the change, the need for sound strategies and advice has remained. That’s what drives my passion.

School districts across Minnesota to celebrate school bus drivers Feb. 21-27

Thousands of hardworking school bus drivers across the state are going above and beyond their duties during the COVID-19 pandemic as essential school district employees. To recognize this important profession, Governor Tim Walz proclaimed Feb. 21-27 as School Bus Driver Appreciation Week in the state of Minnesota. This annual recognition shines a light on the important role school bus drivers play in our communities.

Read more about this event in the Monticello Times.