June 02, 2017
Lessons from Lumber Jill’s Day on Capitol Hill
Last month, I had the great honor of escorting Lumber Jill around Capitol Hill as she delivered dozens of “Modern Lincoln Log Sets” to members of Congress. How did I find myself in such a humorous and strenuous situation? Well, it all started (as you can probably guess) with wood.
The concrete industry has been aggressively working to undermine the wood industry by promoting resistance to the Timber Innovation Act, which would provide research and funding for tall wood building construction in the U.S. The concrete industry had scheduled a fly-in for May 18, 2017, where they planned to lobby members of Congress to support concrete as the construction material of choice – at the expense of wood. Our client, the American Wood Council, knew they had to find a way to give a voice to the thousands of Americans who rely on the wood industry to make a living.
Our job was to travel to Capitol Hill and communicate to members of Congress, staffers, and the media how important wood is to the American economy and environment. Simple, right? Not exactly. When targeting legislators, who are bombarded with hundreds of messages and requests a day, how do we make an impact?
Here are my three takeaways:
Humor goes a long way when promoting a message
Capitol Hill is just as grim and solemn as it appears on C-SPAN. Especially in the current political environment, congressional offices are busy putting out fires, answering calls, and hoping to get through the day without another crisis. In a nutshell, the Hill is in desperate need of some comic relief.
Lumber Jill – armed with a good cause and an important message – provided just that. Dressed from head to toe in a lumberjack ensemble (pigtails, a flannel shirt, jeans, and hiking boots), Lumber Jill made her way through Congress with a smile on her face and Lincoln Logs in her hands. She stood out in the suit and tie-filled halls of Congress, as people were intrigued to know what she was doing and why. Curiosity opened the door to conversations about wood and provided opportunities to educate people about the benefits of building with wood. Humor set us apart from the hundreds of people also trying to make their voice heard on Capitol Hill that day.
The “leave-behind” should be something they won’t leave behind
The second lesson I quickly learned was how a message is delivered is just as important as the message itself. Congressional offices are stuffed with one-pagers, white papers, and binders of studies and analyses that seek to persuade legislators to take a certain position or advocate for a specific cause. The difficulty is finding a way to keep your issue top of mind long after the meeting has ended.
Deliver your message with materials that will not be tossed in the trash the minute you walk out the door. Lumber Jill delivered 20-piece timber building sets branded with facts highlighting the benefits of wood. The building sets provided a fun and thought-provoking way to think about the possibilities of building with wood and will continue to provoke discussion in the future as they sit on the desks of members and their staffers.
Strategy is the difference between an ambitious goal and a successful feat
Congress is enormous. With 100 senators and 435 representatives, deciding where to start and who to talk to can be overwhelming. Rather than panic, be strategic. First, identify a goal. Whether it is cultivating support for a piece of legislation or countering attacks from an adversary, every strategic effort must begin by answering one question: Who matters?
By identifying which members will most directly influence the legislation and mapping out how to reach them, we could cut down (no pun intended) on the anxiety of finding our way around Capitol Hill and focus on why we were there: to talk about wood.
As my adventure with Lumber Jill came to an end, eight hours and 17,000 steps later, I left the halls of Congress with sore feet and a sense of accomplishment. For centuries, building with wood has been the smart choice for the economy, environment, and future of America. On May 18, Lumber Jill and I did our part to protect that legacy.