ABC 2014: Tips offered for meetings with legislators

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WASHINGTON — Many of the marine industry's most prominent executives gathered this morning for some Schoolhouse Rock.

Really.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association's Nicole Vasilaros and Jeff Gabriel opened a tutorial session for American Boating Congress attendees with the "I'm Just a Bill" song that many might remember from their second-grade civics lessons.

But Vasilaros and Gabriel also gave newbies some tips about how to make effective contact with legislators and staffers on Capitol Hill.

"If you freeze at any point in time or get caught with a member you didn't plan on meeting, just mention who you are, where you're from and jobs," Gabriel told the group. "That is immeasurable. Don't forget that the most important thing you're doing today is giving a sales pitch of who you are. The issues are secondary."

Whenever people hear the word "recreational" in front of an activity they tend to lose the gravity of its impact, Gabriel told the group of about 150 people.

"Recreational anything has a problem on the Hill," Gabriel said. "What we're really trying to do is put an economic message with the feel-good message, what recreational boating means to the country as a whole, but also specific to the state. And what does it mean for the district?"

In the ABC packet is information that is "almost down to the granule level of your district so when you have your meeting you're going to be able to talk in real, strong numbers that make an impact."

Even if attendees are scheduled to speak with members of Congress, they shouldn't be surprised if they wind up meeting instead with staffers, Vasilaros said.

"Those staffers that you're meeting with are experts," Vasilaros said. "When you have a meeting with that staffer, that might be the most effective meeting you have. They are going to be the people who are in the ear of the congressman. If you get to meet with your member of Congress, that's great, but don't feel slighted if you meet with a staffer."

"You are here at the perfect time, and I really mean that," Vasilaros said later during a session discussing the five issues of focus for the NMMA. "We have a lot of momentum happening right now."

And when closing every single issue, Gabriel said, don't forget to reiterate that the subject "matters because of numbers and jobs. Don't forget to bring it back to that point."

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