Ask any Capitol Hill staffer about their email inbox and they will tell you about how it’s inundated with emails on every topic under the sun. Because of the public nature of their workplaces, staffers’ primary work email addresses are often published in directories or listed on online databases, resulting in mass emails, one off requests, and spam. Given these factors, breaking through the clutter of a Hill staffers’ email inbox can be challenging; yet it is key, as email remains the preferred and primary means of communication on Capitol Hill.
Here are some quick and practical tips to make sure that your message is read.
The subject line
DO keep the subject line germane to the email content so that the recipient gets the point at first glance and can easily search for the email later. Putting the staffer’s first name in the subject line is one strategy to ensure that your email stands out. For example: “Hi, John – Question about XYZ Topic.”
DON’T use a subject line that could be mistaken for a mass email. Since staffers receive many mass emails, they oftentimes delete them in bulk without ever reading them.
The content of the email
DON’T misspell the staffer or their boss’ name. Address senators as “senator,” not congressman. House members should be addressed as “congressman.” Also, if you are “plugging in” someone’s name or their boss’ name into a form or prewritten email that you are sending to multiple people, make sure that the font and font color are uniform. Your email will be perceived as impersonal if the entire email text is black and in one font and “Dear Jane” is blue and in another one.
DO keep your message brief and straight to the point. If your email includes an ask, make sure that the ask is crystal clear. When providing information, be truthful, accurate and straightforward. Hill staffers can sniff out when someone is misleading them or conveniently leaving out details. Credibility is everything in this world.
DO offer to provide additional information or materials, when appropriate.
The tone and timing
DO open with a pleasantry to set a positive tone. It never hurts to be polite. Also, if you’ve met the recipient before but don’t know them well, DO remind the staffer of how you know each other or where you met.
If you call a staffer and leave a voicemail, DO mention in your message that you will follow up with an email with your request in writing along with your contact information.
Consider your timing. DON’T email a staffer when their boss’ legislation is on the floor or after hours, unless it can’t wait or your email is pertinent to legislative action that is underway.
As an overall best practice, especially when you are trying to influence Capitol Hill to take action, create an environment where it is convenient and easy for the action to take place, and never underestimate the value of common sense and practicality.
Lauren Culbertston is director at Story Partners in Washington, DC. Prior to joining the firm, Lauren worked in the U.S. Senate as the deputy communications director and press secretary for Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.)