Matt Gontarchick has worn many hats at Chamber Hill Strategies, whether it’s planning fly-ins, managing business development for PolicyCrush, meeting with congressional staff, covering hearings, writing memos, and supporting the firm’s principals. Here, Matt tells us about the differences between working from home and working in the office, and how the pandemic may shape advocacy going forward.
What do you think fly-ins are going to look like when the US Capitol Complex is reopened to the public?
It’s anyone’s guess. A lot of people are pointing towards a hybrid model that incorporates both in-person and virtual meetings, but there are still a lot of questions about how that would work logistically. There are clear benefits to both – people still have a desire to connect in-person, and virtual meetings offer an opportunity for people to participate in advocacy that otherwise couldn’t due to travel or difficulty getting time off from work. How you feel about virtual or in-person fly-ins also seems to depend on your role in an organization. I attended a webinar recently on the future of fly-ins, and one panelist said her organization loved being able to do a virtual fly-in because it saved them $100,000, as flights and hotel rooms in DC aren’t cheap, of course. On the other hand, the panelist said the participants couldn’t wait to go back to doing an in-person fly-in because they wanted to go back to their usual experience of meeting together and networking in Washington. There are a lot of competing interests, but no simple solution. I think going forward, fly-ins will have both an in-person and virtual components, but on separate days. The in-person component can be more targeted to include advocates who are key constituents or experts on a particular topic, whereas virtual meetings would provide a platform for those who don’t necessarily need to be in Washington to communicate their message.
How has your sales experience helped you?
Relationship management carries over to so many areas. It’s important to understand what the person you’re meeting with cares about with and how to build a rapport with them. When I’m meeting with congressional staff, for instance, I always try to understand how the issue fits with their boss’s district or state. And being able to build rapport with staff as a peer in DC helps. Sales has also helped beef up my negotiation skills, which are important outside of work, too. Last summer, my car was involved in a hit-and-run while it was parked, and I needed to replace the rear taillight. Thanks to the negotiation skills I picked up from working with PolicyCrush, I was able to negotiate down the price of both the taillight and the installation at the dealership.
How have you adapted to working in a pandemic?
It’s been difficult, because admittedly, I’m not a fan of working from home. I think part of the reason for that is I need physical separation between home and work. I live in a studio apartment, so the physical separation aspect is hard to achieve – waking up everyday right next to your desk, looking at your apartment, and knowing that you’re going to be there for the rest of the day is kind of depressing. And since I do a lot of writing, I really value having a space where I can focus on my work with minimal distractions, and my cubicle does a great job of that. Fortunately, as conditions have changed, I’ve been heading into the office more and more, and it feels great to go back to my normal routine of walking to the Metro and going for a run around the National Mall after work. I need variety, and global pandemics aren’t conducive to that.
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
“Life rewards action.” I’m somewhat embarrassed to share this because it’s a Dr. Phil quote, and I have mixed feelings about him. However, I like it because it’s simple – it says you need to take initiative to make something happen. I think too many people expect success to fall in their lap or are disappointed if they don’t reach their goals after a few attempts. For example, some people might give up on searching for their dream job after just a few applications. If you want something, you have to put in the work.
What else should we know about you?
I’m a proud University of Maryland alumnus, and I’m pretty involved with my local alumni network. At least when global pandemics aren’t going on, we plan and host different events like game watches, fundraising events, and speaker series. I also volunteer as a contributor for a blog that deals with smart growth, housing affordability, and transit issues in the Washington, DC area, and I keep up with it because it helps my writing skills. Outside of that, I’m an avid runner, and I enjoy exploring cities or just walking around different neighborhoods. Also, I’m a huge TV nerd, so I’m always keeping up with new shows, reading about “prestige television,” or doing a rewatch of a classic like The Wire.