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The Rise of PIA Grassroots Advocacy

Over the past several years, you may have noticed a change in PIA's approach to advocacy. Your association has evolved into a much more...
September 5, 2006

Our New Approach Places Greater Emphasis on Member Involvement

PIA National Executive Vice President & CEO Leonard C. BrevikBy Len Brevik
Executive Vice President & CEO
PIA National

Over the past several years, you may have noticed a change in PIA's approach to advocacy. Your association has evolved into a much more aggressive advocate for the interests of professional insurance agents.

Whenever PIA determines that proposed legislation on Capitol Hill poses a threat to our members' interests, our first move - not our last move - is to call upon the most effective advocates we have at our disposal: PIA members.

When PIA first adopted its Grassroots Action approach to legislative challenges on Capitol Hill, one group actually criticized us as irresponsible for being too quick to involve members in a grassroots campaign, rather than relying on lobbyists in Washington, D.C. to influence a pending bill. That's just nonsense. Advocacy by members is never inappropriate. It is always vital.

A New Attitude

True grassroots advocacy with Congress is a vital component of successful lobbying that must never be ignored. A strategy that relies solely on back-slapping, glad-handing and schmoozing is no longer enough. The advent of online technology provides a powerful new tool for effective grassroots advocacy through member involvement.

A decade ago, contributions raised online for political campaigns were miniscule; now they are in the many millions. Email is now the method of communication with constituents preferred by Members of Congress, especially since snail-mail deliveries to Capitol Hill can often be interrupted due to terrorism concerns. And the recent lobbying scandals have also increased the value of citizen advocacy.

Just as a good salesman always starts off by assuming he'll make the sale, effective advocates in the legislative, regulatory and legal arenas must start by assuming that victory can (and must) be achieved. To approach any challenge with anything less than a firmly held belief in the rightness of your position, and the confidence that you will prevail, is to court failure.

Some say that it is of primary importance to secure "a place at the table" in order to be effective. That's true, but only up to a point. You have to be able to discern when to get up from the table and leave, such as when others at the table attempt to serve you nothing but crumbs. Sometimes fighting from outside is more effective than trying to be perceived as an insider, when the price of being an insider is having to compromise away too much of what you value.

Grassroots Action

One of the most effective lobbying organizations is the National Rifle Association. The NRA does not depend solely on high-priced lobbyists to carry its messages. It relies on a dedicated nationwide network of members - committed citizen-activists who firmly believe in their principles. They will answer a grassroots action call at a moment's notice, springing into action to call their Members of Congress and make their views on legislation known in no uncertain terms.

When it comes to advocacy, PIA's philosophy is embodied in our Strategic Long Term Plan, which defines as a strategic objective:

"Position PIA as the best legislative, regulatory and business advocate for PIA members."

The ability to think of things in new, innovative ways led directly to our decision to declare the entire month of August as the focus of a major, nationwide in-district lobbying push by PIA members. Because Congress is on recess in August, many groups assume that there's no legislative advocacy going on. PIA has a different view. August is the time when Members of Congress and candidates are back home in their districts, getting back in touch with their constituents. There's no better time to contact them and try to convince them to see things from our point of view. Political Involvement and Advocacy Month - PIA Month - is more than just an event. It is a groundbreaking reinvention of what it means to lobby.

Core Beliefs

Another difference that has developed at PIA is our ability to be nimble and act quickly. We all know that the pace of business has accelerated. So has the pace on Capitol Hill, as it has in state capitals and, thankfully, at the NAIC. When a killer amendment materializes, there's no time to waste. You have to act, and act quickly. Your staff must be capable of doing so and be empowered to do so.  PIA also has the advantage of having policy committees that work because they actually work.  In some organizations, committees often get bogged down in minutiae, seeming sometimes to exist solely to consume coffee and danish. Not at PIA.

PIA also has a laser-like focus on issues, and we don't try to be bigger than we should be. PIA represents independent insurance agents. That's all. That's more than enough. Were we to attempt to represent, for example, both agents and big brokers, we would dilute our effectiveness by trying to serve two masters simultaneously. The temptation to moderate our positions might be too great. Big is not better. Big is just big, like any bureaucracy.

There are many issues which will yield to the fine art of compromise. These are matters that are of lesser importance to our core beliefs. But on the really important issues a clear line must always be drawn, such as our opposition to the federalization of insurance regulation and our support of contingent commissions as a legal, honest and important form of compensation. Core beliefs must be aggressively defended and never be subjected to compromise.

Len Brevik lenbr@pianet.org is Executive Vice President & CEO of PIA National.

PIA Connection

This article originally appeared in the September 2006 PIA Connection.

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