Study Affirms Web Use Among Beltway Policy-Makers, Shatters Myth Of Recess Absence

Corporations, trade associations, and issue advocacy groups all vie for the precious attention of congressional members and their staffers. A recent report from Mindshare Interactive Campaigns LLC studying the media consumption habits of Washington's opinion leaders affirms that--like the general public--the coveted Capitol Hill audience is using the Web more, too.

In fact, 74 percent of the beltway brigade responded that they visit online publications more than they did last year.

"The interesting paradox here is that people are saying: 'I'm online all the time, but I don't think anybody else is,'"observes Alisha Johnson, director of advocacy advertising at NationalJournal.com, the politics, policy, and government publication Web site on which the study was conducted. "That's what this [study] is designed to combat."

A mere one percent of the 268 study participants--nearly a third of whom are congressional, federal agency, and executive branch staff--said they use Web publications less than they did one year ago. In contrast, 44 percent of respondents use TV less, nine percent use it more, and 47 percent the same amount as last year. While around half of participants use radio and print newspapers and magazines the same amount, 38 percent use print magazines less, 33 percent use radio less, and 25 percent use print newspapers less than a year ago (the same percentage who use print newspapers more).

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Seventy-eight percent of respondents accessed information online while at work early in the day, and 56.2 percent did so at work late in the day.

Conducted between March 29 and April 9 by Mindshare, "Reaching In-Demand Decision Makers Online" is the third annual study from the public affairs agency to evaluate how D.C. opinion makers use the Web in their daily work. In addition to congressional, federal, and executive branch workers, the study surveyed others from the lobbying and political consulting industries, as well as representatives of corporations, interest groups, think tanks, and research organizations. All questions related to media usage for gathering public policy information for work purposes.

Another goal of the study: to prove that when Washington takes a summer break, many officials and staffers don't. "There's a myth that during the August recess people are all on vacation and not in town," says Lisa Knapp, VP of client services at Mindshare. "We found the exact opposite."

The study isolated responses from congress people, who account for 25 percent of all participants; 74.4 percent of those congressional respondents spend the majority of time during congressional recesses and district work periods in their D.C. offices. More than 40 percent said they spend breaks catching up on unfinished business, and 32.6 percent spend it no differently from when Congress is in session.

"Because a lot of [advertisers] aren't spending during [August]," suggests Knapp, if advertisers put money towards online efforts at that time, "they have a better chance for their message to really resonate with people."

The survey also asked congressional respondents about their habits when it comes to preparing for a vote on legislation. Nearly 60 percent said they prefer to access policy analysis and research via the Internet. Around 14 percent prefer e-mail, 12.2 percent chose an in-person meeting or presentation, and 6.1 percent like to receive printed materials by postal mail the most.

NationalJournal.com's Johnson admits that policy promoters "can't ever fully replace in-person visits." Still, she thinks the study counters the commonly held notion in Washington that sending postal mail, direct mail, and faxes are the best ways to engage policy-makers.

Congressional respondents also noted the types of materials they prefer to receive online. More than 80 percent like to access clear statements about an organization's position on pending legislation via the Web, 70.5 percent like to use the Web to gather information or analysis of a policy's impact on a congressperson's district or state, and 63.6 percent like to access newly released position or policy papers online.

With heightened security on Capitol Hill, "it's hard to get mail up to the hill and into the offices," says Mindshare's Knapp, who notes that the firm's public policy clients have received the study findings "as another reason for continuing to move more of their budgets online."

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