I visit Capitol Hill with the Professional Beauty Association to talk about pending legislation that could save salon owners thousands of dollars. Part of a PBA Lobby Day team, I met with Congress members to help the beauty industry’s voice be heard.
My team was led by Brad Masterson (left), vice president of Y Public Relations (which does PR for the PBA), and included (from left to right) Kopeikin, myself, and Eric Schwartz of nail products company OPI.
I’d heard of PBA Lobby Day before via press releases and media mentions, but I didn’t know many details about how the day unfolded. So when the PBA’s public relations representative asked me to tag along this year to learn how the lobbying process works (and to then share that knowledge with all of you), I was intrigued…and a bit intimidated. (I’m not as knowledgeable about politics as I am about nails!) Brad Masterson, vice president of Y Public Relations, assured me all of the lobbying would be done in a group and that I’d be well-prepped beforehand. I wasn’t necessarily expected to be an active lobbyist during the day, but I could attend all of the meetings with Congress members, take notes and photos as needed, and chime in when it felt right.
So, why does the restaurant industry have this tax credit and the salon industry doesn’t? A big reason is because the restaurant industry was better mobilized than we were. “Lobbyist” can have a bad connotation, but lobbyists tend to only make the news when they’re involved with something scandalous (like bribery). However, in its most basic form, a lobbyist is simply someone who makes her voice heard on topics that are important to her and, yes, tries to persuade Congress members (through means like constituent letters and data-filled charts) to vote either for or against particular pieces of legislation.
The PBA is making huge strides in mobilizing the salon industry. It’s been organizing Lobby Day for over seven years, which is a volunteer-based effort to educate Congress on the beauty industry. Even when there’s not pending beauty industry legislation, Lobby Day takes place. “It is important to make sure members of Congress know about our industry, people, and the economic impact we have regardless of whether there is legislation pending,” says Myra Irizarry, PBA’s manager of government affairs. Outside of Lobby Day, the PBA has also been involved with Interchange Fee Reform, the 1099 Repeal, the Gainful Employment Rule, and other government issues (which you can find out more about on www.probeauty.org/advocacy).
The PBA hired Venn Strategies, a government affairs firm that specializes in direct advocacy, to help with the lobbying efforts. The other participants — including salon owners, manufacturers, and distributors — are all volunteers.
We also got to meet with the staff of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who is the representative for my home district in Long Beach.
The morning of our meetings with Congress members, I buttoned up a starched white shirt normally reserved for job interviews, then squeezed into a cab with Brad and others to the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill, one of the buildings that houses House members’ offices.
It’s tradition to start the day with a prep meeting in the large food court. Here we got our small square PBA pin badges, plus larger rectangular “I Support the FICA Tax Credit” badges to help spread our message before we even opened our mouths.
I was impressed with how organized the PBA is. The night before at dinner, as part of Team CA-NV (California/Nevada) I’d gotten a folder filled with background info. It included photos and bios of all of the Congress members with whom my team had scheduled meetings, plus notes about whether the PBA had met with the person before. The team leaders’ folders included letters from salon owners in the Congress members’ constituency, which would serve as great leave-behinds.
Many of the participants were Lobby Day regulars. Several warned me that it is addictive. Once you realize your voice is being heard, you’ll come back year after year. These veterans offered advice and reassurance. “Congress members want to hear from constituents,” one veteran advised. “Make it personal to them. Say ‘My name is ___. I work for ___.’ and explain how the legislation will personally affect you. That’s what they’ll remember.” I watched a mock-meeting between Frank Zona, owner of Zona Salons, and Eric Schwartz, chief operating officer of OPI, in which Eric asked Frank questions about the bill, and Frank responded with well thought-out answers. For any questions for which we didn’t know the answers, we were advised to say we’d get back in touch soon with the answers, and Venn Strategies would follow up.
Two things that surprised me were 1) in many cases, we’d be meeting with staffers — not the Congress members themselves. These staffers have the ear of the member, we were told, and we shouldn’t be discouraged if we met with a staffer instead of the member. And 2) meetings wouldn’t necessarily take place in the Congress member’s office. Due to space constraints and other meetings, we may meet with staffers in the hallways (which turned out to be the case for my team’s first meeting). We were told not to take this personally either.
As it turned out, all but one of my team’s meetings were with staffers. I was pleased with how genuinely interested these staff members appeared toward our concerns, giving us their undivided attention and not rushing us, and surprised by how personable they were, including asking us questions about our backgrounds. Each staffer furiously scribbled notes, and several asked astute questions and offered insightful observations. Anjelica Kelly, a legislative research assistant for Sen. Barbara Boxer, commented that it’s “one of the least polarizing bills.” Caitlin Callahan, scheduler for Congressman Joe Heck (Nevada’s 3rd district), sported bold pink nails and seemed to grasp the salon industry’s dilemma quickly. (She joked that the Congressman is scared to send her to the district because she’ll “disappear deep into one of Vegas’ spas.”) Kip Payne, legislative assistant for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, paid keen attention when I told him the possible impact this legislation could have on my neighborhood’s salons. (With the guys, we were encouraged to remind them that barber shops would also benefit from this legislation.)
Our 3 p.m. meeting was
with Rep. Howard Berman (right), who represents the district that includes OPI’s corporate headquarters.
Here he poses with
Eric Schwartz of OPI; the
two had met many previous times, as OPI is active in
The one Congress member we met in person was Rep. Howard Berman, whose district includes OPI’s North Hollywood headquarters. Rep. Berman had lots of questions for us. He had several staff members in the meeting also, and we did our best to address all of their concerns. He was congenial, and even let me snap a photo of him with OPI’s Schwartz. It was exciting to meet a Congressman — I’ve been bragging about it even after returning to L.A.
Sometimes during Lobby Day, Congress members will agree on the spot to co-sponsor the bill. For our team, we didn’t have anyone agree that day (staffers typically have to check in with the actual member before committing), but hopefully once the members review the takeaways in more detail, they will agree to co-sponsor it.
After all of the meetings, we had a short break, during which our team sat in the gallery for the House of
At Welcome to Our World, I got a manicure from Shirley Schote, an account manager with OPI. “I started out as a nail tech, and I like to give back,” Schote said. “We’re here to show what the beauty industry is all about.”
Representatives (courtesy of Rep. Berman) to watch Congress in action, then we attended Welcome to Our World. Organized by the Professional Beauty Federation (www.probeautyfederation.org), Welcome to Our World is an annual event in which Congress members and their staffs are invited for an intimate look at the beauty industry in action — via free manicures, haircuts, make-up applications, and other beauty services. It was a busy event, with nails appearing to be the most popular service. The beauty professionals who work this event are volunteers who feel strongly about giving back to the industry.
The day was exhausting and fulfilling at the same time. We were on our feet all day, including in the hot humid air that is Washington D.C. in the late springtime. We had to go through security at every building. (Shoes don’t normally have to come off but my black heels had set off the metal detector at our first stop, so I resorted to taking them off each time.) But, honestly, it was such an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience for me that I would encourage any salon owner, nail tech, manufacturer, or other beauty professional to participate. It’s important, it’s eye-opening, and why would you want to leave all of the law-making fun to Congress when you can be part of the process?
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