How to write an email to high-level decision-makers
Some time ago I organized a webinar: “How to invite the President”. A great event until the security guards threw me out of the building. So the event was cut short a bit, but that’s the perils of Office-life. But nevermind my daily mess-ups, you came here because you want pointers on how to construct an email to the President, that will actually get opened, read and favourably answered to.
Know the email, the secretary and the political advisor
Obviously, if you are writing to an MEP, a minister or a top-civil servant you will need to know his email. One way to trace the email is simply by calling the reception and asking to put you through with the secretary or the office of the MEP or the Minister. Once connected, simply state your intention (invitation for a speaking engagement or a working visit) and ask how to go about it. Often they will ask you to send an email. Try to steer away from being referred to the website. Actually calling the office will also give the secretary or the advisor’s heads and will thus serve as a mental post-it note.
In Brussels, there is a great website called who is who EU. Here you can find most people working for the institutions.
Your subject line should be a clickbait
Well, if not a clickbait then at least informative. At the least, it should trigger people to open the email. Public Affairs and advocacy can learn a lot from the marketing boys. There are whole studies on building attractive subject lines. In general, they should be informative, pose a question, and hold a promise or announcement. Whatever route you choose, your subject line should be short so that it doesn’t fall out of the screen!
Here are some posts dedicated to making the perfect subject line:
- 12 Tips for Creating the Best Email Subject Lines (with Examples)
- How to write the best email subject lines to boost open rates
- How to Be an Email Subject Line Superhero
Eliminate the elimination-criteria
When your email reaches the secretary she will apply a filter. He/She is the gatekeeper and she will make the first selection of requests. Sadly, some requests will never reach the (prime) minister. For example, if you ask something agenda-wise is not possible. For example in the Netherlands every Friday there is a ministerial council. In Brussels, the College of Commissioners meets every Friday. And then there’s Strasbourg (weeks). Timing and time is everything. You will have to do some desktop research in order to figure out a good time. Another elimination criterion is whether your ask lies within the portfolio/competencies of the politician. No politician will speak about a topic that is not within his competencies or is something a fellow member of his fraction deals with. Finally, there is nothing as sure as getting a rejection as when your request is vague. Vague requests get copy-paste-rejections. If you can’t articulate what it is you actually want, don’t worry the secretary will know exactly what to do with your request by mail…….
Keep it short
I could write an entire blog post on how important it is to keep things short! In politics, there is an abundance of everything but a scarcity of time! So if your email visually looks loooooooooong people will be hesitant to read it. Assistants and secretaries are overwhelmed on a daily basis by a tsunami of emails and requests. They have implicit and explicit systems to cope with the sheer volume of emails they need to handle. One of the ways to handle e-mails is to discard vague and long emails. In politics, not wasting someone’s time will make you an instant hero!
Structure of the email
Opening + Strack Value
When introducing yourself in the mail, try to “stack value through hot cognitions”. For example by stressing how many organisations or individuals you represent. (we represent 100.000 workers, we represent 130 car manufacturers in Europe). Other ways of creating hot cognitions are by referring to an association with the high-level decision-maker: “As we are from the same region, we consider ourselves your constituency and you are our go-to guy in Parliament”. Another way of creating a hot cognition is by referring to party lines; Our Mayor is Solim Civobal, and as you know he is a member of the same political party as you are”.
Key-Ask in BOLD
Right after the introduction, you should have a phrase (in bold) outlining your key ask.
“We would like to invite you on the 3rd of August for our annual opening of the Lobster season.”
After the key ask, you should have a paragraph where you implicitly and explicitly give reasons why the high-level decision-maker should come. There are several reasons why a high-level decision-maker would answer favourably to a request
- You are providing him with a platform to vent his (policy ideas)
- You can guarantee media attention
- It provides him with an opportunity to engage with his constituency or “real citizens”
- It provides him/her the opportunity to push an idea, policy or anything which is close to his heart
The opposite also holds true, if your request doesn’t provide media attention, the opportunity to present his ideas to a (huge) audience, it’s a topic far from his interest; you guessed it > your request will be jetonized at the speed of fibre-glass internet.
Your email should also entail some brief logistical information. When is the event? Where is it? This is more for the secretary and political advisor in order to form a judgement. Keep this short and on a “need to know” basis. You should try to articulate just enough to keep it short but simple.
Close & Stack Value
Your close friend should also have some “hot cognitions”. Maybe you shouldn’t send the email? Maybe it should be someone higher up the political food chain. Maybe it should be done by a group of people (Mayor, CEO, party-prominent). I only write request if I know the politician and if I have some political capital with the person I am writing to
Having sent the email it is ok to call the office to find out the status of your request. This creates a “mental post-it’s” and gives you the chance to bond with the secretariat. Needless to say that you shouldn’t be a pain in the ass.
Whether or not a minister or an MEP will decide favourably on your request will also decide how the team will advise. Text (or have someone else text) him that a request is on the way and ask him to advise favourably. Yes, this will also require you to do research on who the advisor is and if you know someone that has his mobile number. There is no free lunch here. All these steps will take effort.