Best Practices for Organizing a Legislative Fly-In

Advice from a professional fly-in organizer

January 30, 2022

We interviewed Lincoln Clapper with Prime Advocacy, a leading fly-in consulting firm in Washington, DC. Since 2010, Lincoln and his team have coordinated over 21,000 meetings for 23,000 attendees.

What’s a Legislative Fly-in?

A legislative fly-in is an annual or semi-annual event in Washington, DC where associations and organizations from across the political spectrum gather for a collective legislative goal.

Groups meet over of the course of a 2–3 day conference that incorporates various sessions regarding the most current and relevant public policy issues in their industry, networking opportunities, and conclude with Capitol Hill meetings. On the last day of this conference, attendees will meet with U.S. Representatives from their district of residence and/or business, as well as both Senate offices from their home state.

The purpose of these meetings is to engage Congress by advocating with real-life examples of how their legislative asks will strengthen their industry or cause as a whole.

What are best practices for a fly-in?

  • Obtain full registration fields from all attendees. Pro tip: it’s helpful include a field when attendee will be departing so as to not schedule meetings during a time the attendee may be heading to the airport.
  • Explain the meeting procurement process in-depth to all attendees in conference marketing material, as well as in Hill Day information leading up to the conference.
  • Hold weekly team meetings with your staff in person and over the phone — stay in constant communication.
  • Set deadlines. Stick to those hard dates. This will force progress and help your entire team stay on track.
  • Have all attendees onboard with your “Hill Day” strategy. Make sure they understand the importance and content of your legislative priorities.

What are the most common mistakes you see groups making? How can these be avoided?

  • Overloading the agenda. When it comes to a fly-in, less is more. There is simply too much to do/see in Washington, DC over the course of 2–3 days. Do not overwhelm your attendees with a “go-go-go” schedule.
  • Rushed planning. Schedule your fly-in one year in advance and start marketing it to your group.
  • Confusion among attendees. Explain to your attendees in the beginning of the process of how the meetings will be arranged. Nothing looks worse than showing up for a Congressional meeting and having double-booked your association because of miscommunication.

What is the key value that organizations see by holding annual fly-ins?

Fly-ins are a very effective way to humanize the policies your association is advocating for throughout the year. By facilitating meetings between your attendees and their members of Congress, their first-hand stories of how legislation affects them on a daily basis is priceless.

Fly-ins help establish long-term relationships between your organization and Congress, creating a brand awareness that imprints your legislative goals on the forefront of Congressional legislative priorities, year after year.

What are the advantages of using expert consultants as opposed to doing it all in-house?“This is your organization’s Super Bowl. It’s a once-a-year event, where your attendees are taking time off of work and are away from their families — you can’t afford for anything to go wrong.”

Times have to be correct, meetings have to be confirmed, and people cannot be getting lost on the Hill.It’s not only about your legislative agenda, but also about creating a positive experience for your attendees. You want everyone to enjoy their time in DC so that they are encouraged to come back again the following year. As experts in organizing fly-ins, we understand the gravity of the situation and take that into account when creating schedules for each attendee. Organizing a fly-in is a science, and it is a science that we have mastered and fully understand.

In terms of time, organizing a fly-in is a full-time job that will require months of planning and execution.

If keeping the fly-in scheduling internally, be prepared to dedicate staff away from their normal job description, and convert them into a scheduler for 8–12 weeks. Your staff does not need to be dedicating that much time and effort to your fly-in. The value of your staff is IN the meetings, not arranging the meetings. There is much more important, substantive work your team can be doing in preparing your attendees for the fly-in and conference as a whole.

What is the cost?

Most consulting firms price based on the number of attendees. We at Prime Advocacy price based on the number of meetings a group would need. Our business model is built around the principle that it takes just as much work to schedule one meeting with 10 people in it, as it does one meeting with one person in it — in the end it is still one meeting, which is why we are very affordable as evidenced by our client list in 2017 of 46 fly-ins.

Because our services can encompass much more than just scheduling meetings (hotel block procurement, bus transportation, congressional guest speakers, packet creation, on-site registration) our price structure can also vary from client to client.

Lincoln Clapper,

Prime Advocacy

Lincoln Clapper is the Director of Sales and Marketing at Prime Advocacy. Prime Advocacy is a leading fly-in consulting firm in Washington, DC having procured over 21,000+ meetings for 23,000+ attendees since 2010.

In 2017, Prime Advocacy completed 46 fly-ins totaling 4,800+ meetings for clients, of which the member of Congress was in attendance 41% of the time. These fly-ins had legislative goals spanning the political spectrum, and ranged in size from 10 to over 1,000+ attendees.

In addition to the Capitol Hill meetings, Prime Advocacy assists with securing hotel blocks, providing logistical guidance regarding various venues around town for receptions, reserving private dinner space for VIPs, and organizing tours of the Smithsonian museums, Capitol Building, Library of Congress, Supreme Court, and numerous venues in the DC area.