Posts Tagged ‘public affairs’

5 Tips to Keep Your Public Affairs Issues Up-Front

November 1st, 2010

The last days before the mid-term Election Day have given us a media flood on terrorist attacks, gripes about government spending, the rise of third parties, massive rallies, not so massive rallies, poor job growth … enough to make your head feel spun like a bad political attack ad.

No matter how the election goes, you can bet the greater media narrative until swearing-in day will be either (1) “wow, the Republicans won many seats!” or (2) “wow, the Democrats held off an electoral tidal wave!”  Never doubt the seductive lure of binary decisions.

That said, for those in charge of their organization’s public affairs department, the concern is how to keep your issues and policy positions relevant when the media would rather breathlessly report on such cerebral matters as one-night stands and bad political manners.  Here are five simple tips to enhance your public affairs presence:

Every issue has its time and place.  Even the most important issues (remember the two wars we’ve got going on?) can and will lose political favor and currency.  As a public affairs pro, no doubt your policy issues are vital to your organization and stakeholders.  Still, no one gets the spotlight 365 days in a row.  Follow political cycles to help develop that sixth sense to tell when you’re no longer the new kid on the block.

Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.  When your public affairs issue isn’t front and center, use the downtime to review your messaging, talking points, PR strategy, new ideas, off-the-record briefings, social media, and so forth.  Remember that policy cravings are cyclical – your policy issues may not be the lead headline today, but tomorrow they could be all the rage.  Don’t waste your primetime having to refine your publicity tactics.

Turn an opponent’s lemons into lemonade.  Sometimes policy debates are little more than a street fight over political turf, so your interaction with opponents will always define some of the media narrative.  No one ever gets to control a policy debate simply by being nice.  When the opposition stumbles, turn the tables and leverage that weakness into promoting your own policy position’s strengths.

It ain’t all about you.  No organization’s pet policy issues live in a vacuum.  If you focus on environment, then technology is always a relevant side issue.  Technology taps into immigration issues.  Immigration taps into national security issues.  National security taps into civil rights issues.  Identify potential partners on policy issues so you can share resources and promote your platform on a greater level.

It ain’t all about them either.  Congressional leadership and committee chairs will rotate if either chamber flips party control.  If that’s the case, has your organization analyzed the public affairs impact from the powers-that-may-be?  Legislative agendas are built and destroyed on political control, so understand how each party or new powerbroker will react to your policy priorities.

By keeping these five basic considerations in mind, your organization stands a better chance of grabbing the public affairs center stage in the coming weeks and months.  Just don’t forget to rinse and repeat around November 2012!

Research, Polling, Stakeholders, Strategy, Execution vs … A Simple Message

August 20th, 2010

The best publicists understand that full-fledged PR campaigns require significant effort and diligence – even stage-management, like a Hollywood blockbuster (more on that below).  When we hear excellent quotes, great taglines, catchy arguments, or anything else similarly persuasive and identifiable, we assume that the communications are spontaneous.  And that is the is the mark of stellar public relations – you believe the messaging is organic.

The truth is, 99% of the time, messaging that reinforces a client’s goals is the product of an intensive examination of how to deliver concise and effective statements that connect with key stakeholders.  In other words, messages that resonate are no accident, they are scientifically determined, tested, and delivered to ensure maximum impact and traction.

Still, sometimes the client’s thought leadership or public affairs campaign is so concentrated and distilled on a simple message that it’s hard for it not to generate fawning headlines – even if a thorough and thoughtful strategy is or isn’t behind it.  Case in point: yesterday’s release by the CDC of the latest smoking in movies statistics.  The report contains heaps of damning number and figures that still show a prevalence of smoking by film characters, and urges Hollywood to continue vigilant efforts to deglamorize the harmful practice on screen.

And what does such a packed-report, coupled with a simple press conference, get for the CDC?  The following headlines:

• “CDC to Hollywood: Stop with the Smoking, Already!

• “‘Step Forward’ in Limiting Smoking Scenes in Films

• “Butt out Smoking on Silver Screen

• “Smoking Still too Common in Movies

Not bad for a PR shop’s day’s work, if you ask us.  Puns in headlines are always a bit cheesy, but here they get the job done – bravo CDC for understanding that simplicity in messaging will always trump the million-page Power Point.

Crisis Corner: Spirit Airlines’ New Baggage Fee Angers Customers, the Government – Who’s Next?

April 12th, 2010

Much has been said about Spirit Airlines’ proposal to charge passengers $45 for any regular carry-on baggage.  Instead of rehashing the pros/cons of this new policy, let’s analyze the company’s move from the public relations standpoint:

Think before inciting controversy.  Airlines lost a staggering amount of money last year, yet it’s amazing how tone-deaf they are in announcing remedial measures to capture lost income.  Just think back to Ryanair’s proposals to charge passengers to use the airplane bathroom, or to force passengers to stand during flights.  If the new policy will likely incite controversy, then huddle with your publicist and think 10 steps ahead to anticipate how your customers will react.  Don’t get caught flat-footed by an easily repeatable/re-tweetable meme.  Standing on flights, really…

Media training is exercise to prevent foot-in-mouth syndrome.  Now that we know why these policies generate radioactive criticism, we must understand how to avoid saying really, really stupid things.  Media training will help the spokesperson nuance the message to minimize blowback.  Customers cringe when they hear about new inflated fees, so don’t patronize them as CEO Ben Baldanza did by saying something this idiotic: “The beauty of [the $45 fee] is [passengers] will do what they think is best for them and will now have the choice.” Um, “choice”?  What about choosing not to anger and alienate your customers?

Different PR disciplines are needed to deal with different PR problems.  What started as Spirit Airlines’ need for crisis management has now morphed into a public affairs issue, as DOT Secretary Ray LaHood and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer both criticized the new fee.  Indeed, LaHood clearly is contemplating some regulatory response, given that he thinks Spirit Airlines doesn’t “care about their customers.”

Most companies understand the importance of PR, but what Spirit Airlines shows us is the importance of hiring publicists who can wear multiple hats.  Don’t roll out your controversial policy until you’re sure you’ve got all your PR bases covered.

DC PR Firm Dispatch: How McDonnell Should Respond to the State of the Union

January 21st, 2010

As is customary, a member of the opposing political party has been tapped to deliver the response to the President’s State of the Union speech next week.  This year it’s Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s turn to do the deed, and as a rising star in the Republican party, he has high expectations to meet.

When you’re assigned an enormous public relations task – parrying with the President – you owe it to yourself to prepare well.  If this were a contest, you’re battling the toughest opponent there is.

So what should you say in your speech?  To answer that question, let’s reverse engineer Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s absolutely disastrous performance last year when he delivered the response.  That way, we can understand some helpful public relations tactics and considerations for McDonnell.

Maintain appropriate tone.  When discussing America’s standing on the world stage, you’re addressing serious issues in global public affairs.  Therefore, your tone as a thought leader should never stray toward anything silly.  Jindal’s words and demeanor were better suited to lecturing toddlers on the importance of listening to grown-ups, but poorly focused on serious political debate.

Practice before skeptics.  Even if Jindal rehearsed his speech with his staff, he should have done so with people outside politics – after all, this is a speech to the nation, not just political insiders.  When your message will be heard by different audiences, make sure you speak to more than just your base.  Otherwise, you risk having your speech finalized via echo chamber, with no constructive feedback to improve it.

Know the consequences of your attacks.  Bashing a government program, particularly when you are a government official, brings you dangerously close to self-inflicted wounds.  In a typical rant on out-of-control government spending, Jindal harshly criticized taxpayer dollars being wasted on “volcano monitoring” and he emphasized these words to enhance their latent absurdity.  Only problem is, “volcano monitoring” is actually a very important geological monitoring service done by the federal government to anticipate natural disasters.  Just like the one that struck Jindal’s state a few years earlier…

Don’t lie.  We all know that being political is often an exercise in bending facts, but some politicians still think out-right lies are smart strategy.  Jindal’s “aw shucks” anecdote about locals standing up to big bad government bureaucrats during Hurricane Katrina disaster relief was later revealed as a total falsehood.  Once your speech wanders into fantasy, you’ve lost almost all credibility.

Public Affairs Firms: Less Smoke, Less Salt, a Trend?

January 11th, 2010

As cigarette smoking fell to growing regulations and restrictions, the greater health lobby has focused similarly on a new target: salt.  From a public affairs perspective, what’s interesting is that instead of incubating in the world of DC public relations, this issue is getting the most attention in New York City.

As the debate intensifies, a competent public affairs specialist would recommend a client’s corporate communications get out ahead of the discussion.  This is precisely what supermarket chain A. & P. has done, for example.  By stating to the New York Times that the city’s regulatory efforts are a “very realistic set of criteria that [their] suppliers can adhere to,” the company gets branded as a trusted and concerned entity.  Not a bad move when it comes to protecting the company’s bottom-line.

Another key point: It’s already accepted (at least by the government) that low-salt levels are key to a healthy diet, which puts companies on notice about health concerns.  So when it comes to being a thought leader in public affairs, a stakeholder needs to do more than just lessen salt in their products – they need smart public relations to explain the importance of the steps they’re taking.  Otherwise, they miss the opportunity to communicate genuine concern for consumers and maintain a strong, positive image.

Obama the PR Specialist Delivers Declassified Intelligence Report

January 7th, 2010

As the White House prepares to release a declassified report on the recent attempted bombing of Northwest flight 253, President Obama gears up to outline how the government will attempt to enhance airport security.  By addressing the nation twice in as many days, Obama is playing the role of a skilled public relations specialist – getting out in front of the report’s release before others have a chance to comment publicly.

Seen from a public affairs perspective, this is how a smart DC media relations playbook should unfold tactically.  Historically, we can look back at incredibly damaging intelligence reports and the failure to appreciate the public relations consequences from their release.

When explaining a highly sensitive issue in the world of public affairs, often the most crucial step is speaking first before others have spoken.  Now, with the report declassified, the immediate associations will always be that Obama spoke authoritatively on the matter.  This step draws a clear line between his administration and efforts to improve national security, and his political opponents will always need to rebut that association before offering any criticisms.

The lesson here?  As a public relations tactic, always appreciate the opportunity to turn a weakness into a strength.  Damaging information that could undermine stakeholder confidence can always be turned around, if the right steps are taken early.

Welcome to the Blog Aesthetic

November 13th, 2009

Welcome to the inaugural post of The Blog Æsthetic!  As the official blog of Praecere Public Relations, Æsthetic will offer regular commentary on the most intrepid and cutting edge trends in public affairs.

The philosophy behind the Praecere approach is to make the client be present in any issues-based debate.  The name Praecere is derived from the Latin word “præsens” which means “being there” and where we get the word “present” – as in “I am here, and I am ready to listen and speak.”  People and organizations often desire to be part of high-profile issues conversations, whether they are focused on health care, technology, foreign policy or any other hot issue of the day.  The question is, how can we join these conversations when just trying to understand the issues is overwhelming enough?

As we gravitate toward social media as the dominant form of gathering and processing news and information, we must embrace the reality that traditional methods of media exposure and publicity continue their march toward obsolescence.  Even more troubling are reports of declining press accuracy.  Therefore, those with a stake in issues debates must ensure that their perspective – being for/against an issue – is both captured and portrayed accurately in media reports.

So how can you make sure your voice is heard?  And that your words aren’t taken out of context?  We can devote much discussion to publicity tactics and methods, the good, bad and ugly.  And as this blog develops, with your feedback we intend to explore the subject matter thoroughly.  We encourage you to follow Æsthetic as the conversation develops, and want you to be our partner in analyzing these trends in public affairs.