A blog guide to inviting elected officials, dignitaries, and leaders to your next big event; and identifying their role within it. Bonus: what order to recognize officials and what order they should speak in.
Congrats! Your company has big news to share and you’re hosting an event. You’ve decided to invite elected officials and other state leaders to attend.
So how do you go about inviting elected officials to your event? And how do you identify the roles they’ll play while there? Speaker? Supporter? Distinguished guest? Equally important: in what order should you recognize elected officials, and in what order should they speak (if at all)?
These are just some of the aspects you’ll want to consider. Other key logistics include why, who, role, timing and coordination. Take a look:
First and foremost, what is your motivation for inviting elected officials to your event? Do they have a place in the story you are telling? Does the news directly impact their constituency?
For example, is your new facility expanding in their city/state and providing job opportunities to their residents? Did they champion support or funding for your new community initiative? Are they offering citations for your celebrated award winners? If yes, then you are on the right track to request their attendance. If not, you may want to re-evaluate why they are being invited – just to have their “face” present usually is not the best strategy.
Which officials do you want to invite? Always refer back to the “Why” when addressing the “Who.” Again, what is the direct connection between that person and your message?
Next, create a “priority” list of officials you want to invite. This can certainly be a mix of federal, state, local, and community leaders, but try to limit it to those who are most relevant and distinguish between who will have a speaking role and who will simply be recognized at the event. (Remember, instead of amplifying your message, too many speakers can have the opposite effect of drowning it out.)
Also, not everyone you invite will be able to attend your event. Start with the officials most important to your announcement, and if needed, have a second tier of officials to approach– but be sure to leave enough time to do so! (See “Timing and Coordination” below.)
In what capacity do you want the elected official to attend? As a keynote or participatory speaker, to deliver a welcome message or support, or to join as a distinguished attendee?
This needs to be taken into consideration in the context of the whole event – purpose, audience, and agenda. However, we recommend a speaking role for elected officials who do attend. It is both a sign of respect and a chance to strengthen your message. Even if the remarks are a brief welcome and thanks, the opportunity shows the official that you value their contribution to your cause, and it demonstrates to the audience the official’s broader support of the initiative.
Again, though, be sure the official has a tie to your event (did I say that before?!) and has been briefed on your message and their role – things can go off-topic very quickly otherwise. You will want to work with the official’s office/staff to do this – which brings us to our next topic:
Timing and Coordination
Timing and coordination will make or break your success when inviting elected officials and leaders. Getting on the calendars of public officials is tough. The more lead time and coordination with their scheduler and office staff, the better.
The first note is to be flexible. In our experience, many times officials genuinely want to attend and support the events of their constituents, but their schedules just don’t allow without enough lead time. Being flexible in planning your event – such as date, time, or agenda, will prove valuable in securing the attendance of elected officials.
Start reaching out at least 6-8 weeks in advance of the event (or earlier) if possible to submit scheduling requests. Also, try to be aware of other public obligations – such as when Congress is in session and the Representative or Senator will be away in Washington D.C. (unless that’s where you are, too!)
In your outreach, you’ll always want to be coordinating with the official’s scheduler and office staff. Each official has their own scheduler and you’ll want to work through them to receive a request form and secure their attendance. You will also provide additional details at this time – including the “Why” from above and the event details. (If you’re hosting a PR event, here’s a handy guide to planning and executing those details!)
Official invitations may also be sent out from a high-ranking official of the company (such as the CEO or Board Chair), or a less-formal contact if there is a personal relationship, but these should not replace coordination directly with the public official’s scheduler.
Once your invitation has been accepted, be sure to work with the scheduler or appropriate staff member to keep the official informed of the event, provide any relevant materials, and guide messaging if needed.
Here’s a bonus tip, because it comes up for just about every event we do. Yes, there is an established protocol to the order in which you should recognize elected officials and dignitaries at your event AND their speaking order (if they are speaking). But they are not the same, which can be where things get a little dicey.
The order of recognizing elected officials at your event
By general rule, you should acknowledge attending officials starting with the highest rank first (federal, state, and local). For example:
- Federal Delegation – State Senators followed by Representatives (both in order of seniority)
- Mayor – if more than one city/town is represented, the Mayor of the city/town which your event is being held in is the highest ranking and should be recognized first
- City/Town Officials – same as above for multiple city/town officials; if officials are from the same city/town, then rank by seniority
The speaking order of elected officials at your event
The speaking protocol is different from the recognition order, with the most-local official speaking first. So, using the example from above, you’ll want the officials to address the audience in the following order:
- Federal Delegation
Note: beyond the Mayor, other city/town officials would only be included in the speaking program if they had a direct connection to the project.
If a dignitary cannot make your event but sends another representative on their behalf, that individual should be given the same order of priority (as the dignitary) when they are recognized or provide remarks.
Admittedly, ranking and seniority are not the easiest things to identify, but you can view the full order of precedence on the US Department of State website.
When inviting elected officials to your event, the keys to a success are to know your event and the officials’ roles within it; be flexible with the timing of your event; give yourself plenty of time for scheduling; and always coordinate with dignitary staffers. Happy inviting!
This post was originally published in August 2017.