A First-Timer at the IFA’s DC Fly-In
As a political junkie (and avid watcher of "Veep" and "House of Cards"), I loved the chance to wander the halls of power surrounding the U.S. Capitol at this week’s IFA DC Fly-In—officially called the Franchise Action Network’s Annual Meeting. Aside from the fun of wandering around Capitol Hill, it was a clear demonstration that the International Franchise Association has learned how to wield its might and appeal to its members in a less caustic manner.
Caustic? Well, that depends on your perspective, but when I first joined this industry two years ago, I was struck by the bitterly partisan tone set by the IFA’s then-leader Steve Caldeira. Whatever side of the aisle franchising’s issues tend to fall, for an industry that’s seeking to modernize its image and fight major external threats, presenting a more inclusive and welcoming attitude is the key.
For the uninitiated, this educational lobbying event is a chance for franchising’s ambitious ‘zees and ‘zors to gather, gain a refresher on the major issues facing our industry and receive easy-to-understand, on-the-job training on how to talk to our congressional representatives about the joint-employer and overtime regulations that are impacting franchised business owners across the country.
The best part, from my experience as a first-timer, is that anybody can do this—even if you’re not a political junkie. The key, as it was explained by experts from Soapbox, a D.C.-based lobbying firm that was hired to teach IFA members how to lobby Congress, is not to get overly emotional or waste time talking about the weather back home in the representatives’ respective districts.
Aside from discussing the top two issues with representatives, another focus was encouraging members of Congress to join the Congressional Franchise Caucus that is an all-new, bipartisan caucus formed by the IFA. The goal is getting congressional members to directly connect with job creators in their districts, and also gain a better understanding of an industry that’s now responsible for 3 percent of the U.S. GDP. America’s GDP is nearly $18 trillion these days—so no small potatoes.
I also had the chance to witness important people doing seemingly important things in the hallways of the Rayburn House Office Building between appointments. It was cool to witness democracy in action, and encouraging to realize that anybody can be here, because it’s our government and it’s designed (and requires) citizen participation to remain healthy. I also saw smartly dressed lobbyists, foreign envoys gathered outside various chambers and ambitious young interns trailing their bosses like lap dogs.
As much as I love wandering around D.C. by foot and train after the day’s work, the highlight of the trip was an impromptu interview I had with Robert Cresanti, the IFA’s new president and CEO—who just announced a three-year contract extension. Cresanti grew up in Germany, has a close relationship with his mother and is excited to get a hands-on cooking lesson from North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx—a representative that expressed strong support for the IFA’s most pressing issues.
Beyond pleasantries, we discussed the very obvious, intentional change in tone at the IFA that is now beginning a significant outreach and ad campaign to increase the visibility of franchising as a whole. Look for details of this conversation in an upcoming issue of Franchise Times, but know this: franchising’s most important association has embraced the importance of widening the tent for franchising.
Franchising is one of the most important and long-standing ways for everyday Americans to move up in the world, and any efforts to welcome more people to the party—be they new franchisees or members of Congress—is good news for the entire industry. I’m impressed by the franchisees who allowed me to tag along as they met with representatives, but more than anything, I welcome the IFA’s newly inclusive tone.