Capitol Correspond: Updating a Letter (Quick and Easy)

The Letter Library houses all of your Form letter responses.  Once a letter is no longer relevant as a response, you may choose to either make it “Obsolete” or archive it.  Making a letter “Obsolete” allows you to maintain the letter in your Letter Library for possible use in the future; however, once a letter is “Obsolete,” you can no longer search for and assign it as a response to a constituent.  If you choose to archive a letter, you are removing the letter from the Letter Library and storing it in a separate utility so that it is not searchable from the Letter Library and may not be assigned to a constituent.  Archived letters are still saved in the database and may be restored at any time.

Before you decide to archive a letter or make it obsolete, you should decide if you can re-use the language of the letter again in a new letter.  If you can update the letter, you do not have to re-create a new template from scratch, which means you do not have to re-assign a header, signature, usage, Interest Codes, Fill-In Fields, etc.  Using the “Copy Letter” feature, all you have to do is give the letter a new name.

To use the "copy letter" utility:

  1. Go to Utilities > Letter Library.
  2. In the Letter Search Screen, search for the letter you wish to update.
  3. Double-click on the letter you wish to update.
  4. In the Letter Detail window, hover over the “Options” button, and click “Copy Letter.”
  5. Give the letter a new name/code (i.e., “111HR3456_UP”, where “UP” stands for “UPDATED”), and click “Ok.”

Now you have two letters with two different names, you can make any changes to your second letter while maintaining the original.  Be sure to finalize your updated letter when it’s finished.

Constituent Gateway: The Blackout and Creating 499 Lists

With the August Blackout period approaching for all Members of the House of Representatives, it's an appropriate time to review creating 499 lists in the Constituent Gateway.  As always, you should check the election laws for your state and consult the Franking Commission to verify how Blackout period rules apply to your office.  Below, we’re going to outline some “Best Practices” with regard to creating 499 lists in the Gateway.

Once you've logged into your account, browse to Contacts > Create Lists > Create 499 Lists.

On this screen you can see a field for naming your 499 lists, a drop down menu for choosing your Source List, and a box where you can select your Suppression Lists (see below for further detail).

Naming Your List:  We recommend that you follow a standard naming convention for 499 lists, ideally starting with the number 499 plus the subject matter (i.e., “499–adopt a puppy”).  You may also want to include a date.  Starting all of your 499 list names with the number 499 will keep them grouped together in the List Suppression box, which will be important if you're creating more than one 499 list.

Choosing Your Source List:  The Source List is the list from which you're instructing the software to randomly draw 499 contacts.  If the source list you choose does not have 499 or more good contacts, the Gateway will not create the list.

In general, the goal of sending e-newsletters is to collect subscribers to whom you can send subsequent e-newsletters — outside of a 499 list. To this end, we suggest starting with your "All Viewers" list because these are contacts we know have opened at least one of your e-newsletters and are more likely to interact with your message in such a way that they will become subscribers.  After you have created all of the 499 lists that you can out of the "All Viewers" list, you should switch to the "All Contacts" list.  There's no need to be concerned about one contact being in more than one 499 list as long as your Suppression Lists are as described below.

List Suppression Box:  As you chose Source Lists in the Gateway from which to draw contacts, you should create Suppression Lists in order to tell the software from which lists not to pull.  Your goal should be to add new subscribers to your contacts, which means that when you're creating 499 lists, you don't want to include contacts that are already subscribers or any bad email addresses.  Hold down the "CTRL" key to choose more than one list starting with your "All Subscribers" and "Hard Bounce Suppression" lists.   You should also suppress any previously created 499 lists, which should be easy to locate in the List Suppression box if you've started each 499 list with the number "499."

Once you've made your Source and Suppression List selections, click "Create List."  The software will process for a few seconds and then create a 499 mailing list that you can then assign to your e-newsletter under the list selection column on the pending mailing screen.

MiCongress: On-demand cable for lawmakers, constituents

View full article at The Washington Post

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer

 

Entrepreneur Stuart Shapiro thinks incumbents have an image problem. And it's no wonder, he says, considering the great lengths they have to go to get the public's attention. They make a scene during their floor speeches. They bicker on talk shows. And they have to rely on the news media to report what they've said — beyond their most recent gaffe.

It's a shame, Shapiro says, that these public servants "work so diligently and have such a passion for caring for their constituents, but it's not being reflected out in the real world."

That's why his company, iConstituent, last week launched a service called MiCongress, which lets lawmakers buy their own on-demand cable channels. For a fee, members of Congress can speak directly to their constituents using the same technology that allows cable subscribers to watch back episodes of "Top Chef D.C." whenever they want.

Like the most recent iteration of the Bravo cooking reality show, MiCongress (pronounced "like iPhone," Shapiro says) might not be a blockbuster. And it's not cheap. Lawmakers pay an average of $2,000 a month for the service, and they do so by digging into their taxpayer-funded office budgets.

So far, five members have signed up: Reps. Jim Moran (D-Va.), Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), Donna Edwards (D-Md.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Solomon Ortiz (D-Tex.). The service costs 2 cents per reachable cable subscriber and allows legislators to make available about 30 minutes of video at any given time. They are permitted to use their office budgets under Congress's franking rules, because it is not considered partisan or campaign speech.

The first to sign up was Moran, who has big plans for the channel, spokeswoman Emily Blout said. The target audience is the young professional set that makes up 40 percent of his Northern Virginia district, she said.

"In days gone by, you'd send out a newsletter blast to tell people what you've been doing, but a lot of people these days don't read that stuff," she said. "They don't have the time or the inclination to read a pamphlet. This is another means for the congressman to provide services to the community."

Moran's channel currently contains clips of him explaining his views on several issues. It also includes a biographical video, though you would be forgiven for mistaking it for a campaign commercial. Inspirational music surges as Moran shakes hands with constituents in Old Town Alexandria and talks about his passion for the environment. Blout and Shapiro say that despite its appearance, it is not intended as a campaign piece.

"I'm just trying to make [people] feel good about their members of Congress," said Shapiro, who produced the video. "It's funny you would think of that as a campaign-style thing."

This is not Shapiro's first foray into constituent communications. His Washington-based company handles e-newsletters for many lawmakers and is also behind many of those telephone town hall meetings that have become so popular.

It isn't his first experience with cable television, either. Before starting iConstituent in 2003, Shapiro was best known for his role as a senior producer of " Night Flight," late-night variety show of music videos, cartoons, B-movies and documentaries that aired in the 1980s and 1990s on the USA Network.

To learn more about MiCongress

Congress Members Added To Cable's On-Demand Menus

View full article at Florida AP News
MATTHEW BARAKAT, Associated Press Writer

McLEAN, Va. (AP) ? Can't get enough of your local congressman on C-SPAN, C-SPAN2 or C-SPAN3? Now you can get 24/7 access to your representative through most cable providers.

Four House members started airing prerecorded videos this week through MiCongress On Demand, which they say lets them reach out to constituents with the same cable on-demand services people use to catch TV reruns and movies.

Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., was the first out of the gate, paying roughly $2,000 a month from his taxpayer-funded office account to a company called iConstituent, which specializes in helping congressmen communicate with their constituents.

A three-minute video titled "Who is Congressman Jim Moran?" features the congressman walking the streets of Old Town Alexandria, recalling how he fainted the first times he tried to engage in public speaking.

He says that when he was elected to Congress, "I saw that things were not as I had been taught. There was a lot of injustice in the world. … I became something of an activist." Other videos focus on specific issues, and just feature the congressman speaking directly to a camera.

Moran spokeswoman Emily Blout said the congressman represents a district with many young people, and a lot of people who are new arrivals, and the on-demand channel allows him to reach out in new ways.

"This is just another means of constituent relations, relatively low cost and it can be accessed 24/7," Blout said, noting that a single mass mailing for a newsletter to an entire district can cost as much as $120,000.

iConstituent says more than 830,000 homes in the Washington, D.C., area that includes Moran's district can watch and listen to his on-demand channel. However, Moran will be competing for eyeballs with popular series reruns, made-for-TV movies, and local police department most-wanted and cold-case public service announcements.

Stuart Shapiro, president of iConstituent, said MiCongress on Demand has the potential to change how the public views Congress.

"The general sense of negativity that Congress is getting is, I believe, unwarranted and unfair. I believe with MiCongress we can show members in a new light, how hard they work for their constituents regardless of party. … MiCongress can help develop a newfound appreciation of our members of Congress," Shapiro said.

Shapiro said the content must adhere to the same rules as taxpayer-funded mailings in terms of being nonpartisan and issues-based, rather than political in nature. But the video-on-demand service is not required to go dark in an election season, as is required of congressional mailings in the three months before an election.

Shapiro said the rates cable providers charge members of Congress for the on-demand channels are fair, and that cable providers are not providing a discount to curry favor as an industry.

In addition to Moran, iConstituent has signed up Reps. Donna Edwards, D-Md.; Heath Shuler, D-N.C.; Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas; and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., whose channel will be up shortly. Shapiro is confident that others from both parties will follow suit.

Members will be able to measure exactly how many constituents watch their programming to know if their outreach is working, Shapiro said.

Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for the government watchdog group Common Cause, said the content needs to be monitored to ensure it's not overtly political. But she said the channels can be a novel way for members of Congress to communicate with constituents, an important part of their job.

But Moran's opponent in November, Republican Patrick Murray, said the on-demand channel gives the incumbent an unfair advantage.

"This seems to be nothing more than a 21st-century way of … getting around the congressional rules" that prohibit taxpayer-funded mass mailings before an election, said Mike Lane, Murray's press secretary.

Of some consolation, Lane said, is his suspicion that the Jim Moran micro-channel won't be the most popular thing on cable.

"When you tune into On Demand, and there's a menu of 1,000 things to choose from, my guess is that Jim Moran will be Number 1,000," Lane said.
 

Ortiz Launches On-Demand Channel Across South Texas

View full article at Texas Insider

WASHINGTON – U.S. Representative Solomon P. Ortiz (D-Texas) launches his MiCongress On-Demand Channel throughout South Texas today. The channel, which contains videos and information about his work in Congress, will be available via cable providers, and he will regularly update the content to reflect the issues and interests of his Congressional District.

“I want to connect directly with my constituents in their homes, offices and businesses,” Ortiz said. “MiCongress will allow me to provide the latest news about what Congress is doing to and present my thoughts on issues of importance for South Texans.”

To view Ortiz’s On-Demand channel, go to the “Find It on Demand,” channel then to “My Government.” Within “My Government” select “MiCongress.” You can select from the four titles: My District, Military, Immigration and en español. The channel number in the Coastal Bend area is 988, 801 in the Rio Grande Valley, and both are carried through Time Warner Cable.

Ortiz, Chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, said the channel would be another method of communication with his constituents, from Ingleside to Brownsville.

“I try to represent the 700-thousand residents of the 27th Congressional District diligently – through the votes I cast and the legislation I introduce, support or oppose. I want them to know I am here because of them; to serve them and their needs. This is their channel.”

Ortiz, who last year launched a Facebook page that now has close to 1,000 fans, said spurring innovation and technology in the 21st Century, is important because mass communication in all areas continues to grow.  

“When I got to Congress we used typewriters and wired phones that were bigger than modern day laser printers,” he said. “Today, we have wireless handheld devices, computers and laptops. These technologies not only allow me to reach out to more and more people, it allows them to reach me so we can have a dialog.”

The channel number in the Coastal Bend area is 988, 801 in the Rio Grande Valley, and both are carried through Time Warner Cable.

Several weeks ago, Ortiz launched Twitter and Flicker accounts and his C-SPAN Video Library Channel.  Constituents are urged to visit his website, http://ortiz.house.gov, for the latest information on his work in Congress.

To learn more about MiCongress

Look Out, C-SPAN – Here Comes MiCongress

View full article at Roll Call

WASHINGTON – Rep. Jim Moran knows the sting of unscripted sound bites: In one memorable instance in 2007, the Virginia Democrat caught media fire for saying that the pro-Israel lobby played a large part in promoting the Iraq War.

But Moran is one of the first Members of Congress to jump into a new service that will broadcast videos of him to his constituents via Comcast’s OnDemand. The new “MiCongress” channel, which launches today, offers Members 30 minutes to talk about whatever they choose, from energy policy to foreign affairs.

In an interview Wednesday, Moran said his staffers had trouble persuading him to participate. When filming first began, he said, he was “cranky” and somewhat uncooperative.

“Ambivalent? I was opposed!” he joked. “I’ve learned to be a little camerashy. I have more than enough empirical experience in this regard.”

But Moran is now fully behind the service, which he said allows him to talk directly to his constituents on their own time. The segments on his MiCongress channel(pronounced “My Congress”) show him walking around his district, talking to constituents and explaining his views in intimate chats to the camera. In a segment titled “Profile,” he visits the local bagel shop, gives a speech at National Harbor and tells his viewing audience that he fainted the first two times he spoke in public. And unlike most television spots, Moran had the final say on what made the final cut. “When it’s being taped, it can wind up being out of context,” he said. “Here, I didn’t have that consideration, so I could just talk and relax.”

The company that created the MiCongress channel, iConstituent, has high hopes for the service. President Stuart Shapiro envisions a channel that will become “as important as C-SPAN,” allowing constituents to hear their Member’s views beyond floor speeches and sound bites. “I really believe that the floor speeches have a detrimental effect to their image,” he said. “They need more than 30 seconds to explain, and they need to be on the big screen, and they need to look into [constituents’] eyes.” So far, five Members have bought the service: Reps. Donna Edwards (D-Md.),Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), Solomon Ortiz (DTexas), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Moran. Edwards’, Shuler’s and Ortiz’s segments will go up this week; Ros-Lehtinen is slated to begin shooting on July 1. But iConstituent has a broad base of Members to recruit for the series. The company provides various constituent services such as e-mail management and website maintenance to more than 200 Member offices.

The MiCongress services costs Members a base price of 2 cents per household in their district each month. So for Moran, for example, keeping the channel up will cost him about $2,200 monthly for the 114,000 households that subscribe to OnDemand through Comcast, Cox and Via Media. However, because of the way OnDemand is set up, his videos can be viewed by any of the 843,000 households who subscribe to OnDemand in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. iConstituent charges more to shoot
video and edit the content, but Members can also shoot video themselves as often as they like. Shuler’s spokeswoman, Julie Fishman, said the office plans to update its presentation “pretty often.” The videos that will go up this week are a mixture of content filmed by iConstituent and staffers.

For Shuler, the service allows him to reach rural constituents who are more likely to have cable than reliable highspeed Internet. “I am looking forward to the impact this channel will have on my ability to reach my constituents in Western North Carolina,” Shuler said in a statement. “It is a great opportunity to, in a convenient and personal setting, speak to folks all around the district about the issues that are important to them and to our nation.”

Members are able to pay for the service out of their taxpayer-funded office budgets as long as the videos follow franking rules,
which prohibit things such as partisan speech and campaigning. Since viewers have to choose to watch the MiCongress channel, the videos do not qualify under the “mass mailing” blackout period before elections, according to Shapiro. In essence, he said, it’s an extension of the electronic newsletter. But it’s much easier for constituents to access.

Moran hopes the videos will help him keep in touch with a constituency that is constantly changing; each election cycle, he said, 40 percent of them move. “It’s really pragmatic,” he said. “I have a constituency that is very mobile. I need to reach them, and I need to reach them when they’re available. It’s on their schedule."

To get a taste of what's available click here

Now playing in your living room: Jim Moran and Donna Edwards

View full article at The Washington Post

WASHINGTON – Starting today, the longtime representative of Virginia's 8th congressional district can be seen 24/7 on "Jim Moran OnDemand," while Maryland Democrat Edwards can be seen on a similar channel of her own. Moran's office calls the venture "a dynamic information and news channel accessed through the OnDemand function on your remote control." The office adds that more than 114,000 Northern Virginians subscribe to OnDemand through Comcast, Cox and Via Media. Edwards' show is available to Maryland Comcast subscribers.

Beyond that introductory video, there are segments focusing on the environment and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other topics. Moran's office says the format "allow[s] for in-depth policy discussion on complex issues which can be continuously updated. The unique 'fireside chat' format was used to create a more intimate connection with the viewer."

Moran and Edwards are two of the four lawmakers now using the service — the other two are Reps. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas). The channels, part of a project called "MiCongress," were created via a partnership with iConstituent, a Washington-based company best known for helping members of Congress and other elected officials manage their e-mail communications with constituents, and NCC Media, which dubs itself "the nation's premier Spot Cable advertising firm." NCC is jointly owned by three major cable operators — Cox, Comcast and Time Warner.

"MiCongress is an exciting new medium that allows constituents to access information whenever it is convenient for them on legislation in Congress, upcoming events, and issues affecting the district and the country," Edwards said.

Members who use the new OnDemand service pay for it out of their congressional office budgets. Moran spokeswoman Emily Blout explained that members are "billed on a monthly basis, according to number of OnDemand subscribers in his or her district (about 2 cents per box). It's an innovative, comparatively lower cost alternative to mass mailings."

But will Moran and Edwards be able to compete with the latest episodes of "CSI" and "Two and a Half Men"? We'll watch the ratings and report back.

To get a taste of what's available click here

Have You Tried a Training Class?

iConstituent offers training on its family of products for users with varying degrees of experience and skill. For new users, two of our most popular classes include “The Basics of Correspondence” and “E-Newsletter Fundamentals.” With the arrival of summer interns space may be limited, so make sure you register for a class today by emailing training@iconstituent.com!

For descriptions of these classes, please visit our training page. All classes listed below will be held in the iConstituent offices unless otherwise noted.

Below is the schedule for our June courses. Hope to see you there!

 Class

 Date

 Time

Capitol Correspond 6 Correspondence
Capitol Correspond 8 Correspondence

6/16/10

9:30am-11:30am
3:00pm-5:00pm

Capitol Correspond 6 Correspondence
Capitol Correspond 8 Correspondence

6/21/10

9:30am-11:30am
1:30pm-3:30pm

Capitol Correspond 6 Correspondence

6/22/10

9:30am-11:30am

Constituent Gateway Website
Constituent Gateway E-Newsletter

6/23/10

3:00pm-4:00pm
4:00pm-5:00pm

Special Workshop: CMF/Gold Mouse Awards

6/28/10

10:00am-11:30am

Capitol Correspond 6 Correspondence

6/29/10

1:30pm-3:30pm

Constituent Gateway Version 3.2 Features

7/12/10

1:00-1:30pm
*online webinar

Constituent Gateway Version 3.2 is Here!

Google Analytics Now Integrated into Constituent Gateway
As you may know, our websites use Google Analytics to track important data such as visits, pageviews, and user statistics. Currently, users must log in to the Google Analytics website to access this information. With this new feature, the most common and popular reports can be accessed right from Constituent Gateway! Simply click on the “Google Analytics” link on the Website tab!

New Option for Press Release Filtering 
Several of our website clients have requested a new way to filter their news and press releases. Currently, users can only choose between Month/Year layout or the default layout which can be used with content categories. This new feature will group press releases by month with a dropdown to select a year at the top of the page. This feature works in conjunction with content categories, making your news even easier to organize. Simply select “Group By Month” from the edit folder page!

Update to Our Text Editor for Websites and E-Newsletters 
We have upgraded the text editor that is used to manage content in your e-newsletters and websites. The new updates bring support for Chrome, improved handling for content pasted from Microsoft Word, additional features for embedding Flash, and improved handing for external links. More information will be available on our blog after the release so stay tuned!

RSS Feeds Filtered by Attribute 
On a news section, you can enable an RSS Feed. Previously, if you filtered by Content Category, the RSS Feed would still pull all articles. Now, you can create an RSS Feed that is specific to that Attribute. This could be used for things like creating an issue-specific tab of news on your Facebook page.

Data Downloads from House Websites 
Although this feature has been available since our server upgrade earlier this year, as a reminder you can now download survey responses (in .csv format) from the House website version of Constituent Gateway.

A Change to the “Trouble” Text on E-Newsletters 
We are always looking for new ways to keep our throughput up, minimizing soft bounces that you receive. One change that you will notice in this release is that the text on the top of e-newsletters has changed. The “trouble” text will now read “If you are having trouble viewing this message, you can view the message online”. Removing the words “click here” is just one thing we are doing to avoid soft bounces.

We are looking forward to more releases in 2010…stay tuned!

Capitol Correspond: Did You Say “Irish Names?”

It’s important to standardize name and address information in Capitol Correspond as much as possible so that (1) all outbound mail is addressed in the same manner, (2) you avoid creating duplicate constituents that have the same address but may be formatted differently, and (3) it’s easier to search for existing constituents when all of the address information is formatted similarly.

Irish Name Table

The “Irish Name” table, which is not just for Irish names, allows you to create constituents that have apostrophes and multiple capital letters in their names like “O’Hare” or “McFly”.  In order to create the constituent in the database, you must first add his/her name to the “Irish Name" table.

To Create an Irish Name

  1. Go to Utilities > System Tables > Irish Names.
  2. Click “New” to add an Irish Name. 
  3. In the empty row that displays, type in the constituent’s name.
  4. Click “Ok.” 

Substitute Word Table

When you create constituents in the database, the “Substitute Word” table auto-formats words that should always be written in a particular way.  For example, if the policy of your office is that the abbreviation “St.” should always be written as “Street”, you should add the word to the table to ensure that regardless of how it is entered, it will automatically convert based on your preference.

To Create a Substitute Word

  1. Go to Utilities > System Tables > Substitute Word.
  2. Click “New” to add a Substitute Word.
  3. In the “Actual” column, type the variation of the word that should be standardized (i.e., “St.”).
  4. In the “Replacement” column, type the word that should automatically overwrite the variation (i.e., “Street”).
  5. Click “Ok.”