Sometimes, 40 years of experience needs a little boost from technology to keep a good thing going, and technology recently gave one Harrisburg lobbying firm a way to diversify its business.
McKillop & Associates Inc., a father-son team that's helped organizations press their concerns with the legislature and public since 1972, has launched an online tool called Grassroots Lobbying. The site could help businesses and other groups standardize their internal training and better approach legislators about important economic and social issues, the two said.
"It doesn't replace an executive director or a CEO, or the job they do — it complements it," said Randy McKillop, the firm's president.
Founder Fred McKillop and his son started working together more than 10 years ago. For the past four decades, Fred had made a lot of in-person visits and used overhead projectors, printouts and other visual aids to illustrate effective ways for clients to discuss issues with politicians.
Randy McKillop suggested simplifying and modernizing that process with a PowerPoint presentation for efficiency, but that just set their brains in motion.
"I said, 'Let's take it to the next step and sell the service,'" Fred McKillop said.
The McKillops hired MediaX Creative of Mifflin County and started organizing Grassroots Lobbying to be a resource for modular training videos. The site has a full complement of tracking and reporting programs to help users see which members of their organization have viewed specific training and completed required tasks. It also includes messaging options to remind people about training, events and public relations pushes.
The site allows full customization so that groups can add their own looks and content unique to their needs, such as manager and executive training for companies or certification courses.
"It's something we think should be broadly shared with our nonprofit members," said Jennifer Ross, chief information officer at the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations, or PANO.
The Susquehanna Township, Dauphin County-based group worked with the McKillops during the past year to put together a series of training videos to help member organizations.
It's finishing the nuts and bolts of its Grassroots Lobbying package and could release it to members next month, Ross said. The expectation is that the service will initially be free to member organizations and available to nonmembers for a fee, she said. Final pricing details have not yet been worked out.
The resource videos include what to expect when visiting elected officials, how to properly contact them, the importance of lobbying and information about political action committees.
People don't always have time for all-day training, so the bite-size videos and online content are perfect, Ross said.
"That would save a lot of time in case they're doing it as one-on-one training," she said.
Helping groups communicate their message, as well as find the right people to share that message with, is more of an art form, and that's how Grassroots Lobbying differentiates itself from "robo-letters," Randy McKillop said.
"The customized, individualized approach will be far more effective than the same form letter as everyone else with your name attached," he said.
Businesses could find value in Grassroots Lobbying's training modules, too, Fred McKillop said. Industry information can be tied to larger issues to help companies reach the public and politicians. Or it could be used for internal training so that all associates thoroughly understand a company's mission, products, services and direction, he said.
The McKillops are working with the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania to hone the direction of their new venture through the entrepreneurial support group's TechCelerator program.
"In those classes, we're doing some go, no-go decision making and determining whether people should even be in that business," said Pam Martin, Ben Franklin's southcentral regional director and executive director of the TechCelerator at Carlisle in the Murata Business Center.
The McKillops are attending TechCelerator classes at the Hershey Center for Applied Research in Derry Township. The program is designed to help early-stage entrepreneurs think about their business decisions before they jump into the deep end with no way out.
Every new company has its own challenges, Martin said. The McKillops are shifting from services to products, so price issues can be a key obstacles.
"People moving from services to products need to move their thinking away from getting paid by the hour," she said.
Grassroots Lobbying is in the early stages, and the McKillops are finalizing business development strategies but said they feel strongly about their tool's simplicity and versatility.
"We're not trying to redo the world," Fred McKillop said, "just trying to help."