We wanted to learn from the best, so we went to Washington, D.C. Lo and behold, the “personal touch” is now all the rave in lobbying.

Last month, 22 people from Amcham member companies traveled to Washington, D.C., to study how things get done in the world’s most lobbied city. Meeting with various experts and high-profile organizations, we focused on the best practices of successful government relations.

The business has been strongly affected by the 24/7 news media, social media and a younger cadre of practitioners. Instead of a policy memo, you’ll do better bringing along a witness.

The personal touch can make the difference.

If you’re trying to influence a decision, bring someone along who has a direct connection to what you’re talking about. Physical proximity is great if you can get it – if you know someone from the same city or region as the person you’re meeting, that helps.

It can be rare for politicians to meet “real people”. Public affairs professionals have a part to play, but sometimes you need to bring in the person who is directly affected by the issue, whether it’s the sales manager at a firm or a university student.

Don’t go it alone

Everyone we met echoed that you’ll rarely be successful if you try to do everything on your own.

Finding the right partners to work with is crucial, and a coalition will often be more effective than going it alone, especially due to the varying talents and backgrounds of the people involved.

Even working with partners that you would normally consider your rivals can be effective – think Microsoft and Apple, Harvard and Yale, or (even more improbably) Michigan and Ohio State. When you show a united front, it makes the issue relevant to a broader audience, like the entire industry in question or the economy as a whole.

This is where Amcham comes in for many of our members.

The Presidential Elections

When it comes to the upcoming U.S. elections, nearly the only thing our contacts could agree on was how much of a mess things are at the moment. The race goes through deep swings from week to week, and states that previously were Republican could go Democratic, but everything is still – in late September – all up in the air.

Negative economic news or a last-minute scandal could change everything as we saw in the case of Secretary Clinton’s pneumonia.

The opinion of the President can have a big impact on the lobbying climate overall, to say nothing of his or her relationships with various groups. As a result, people in Washington are doing their best to build ties with both sides.

Making sense of the election

On November 10 – right after the election – we’ll gather to discuss where the United States is headed. Political journalist Rick Dunham, former White House correspondent for BusinessWeek, and economic policy expert Anne Mathias, who has shaped and analyzed economic policies both in Washington, DC, and California, will set the stage.