What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate
Several of the readers who commented on Andrew's post from yesterday said that the House didn't pass the Paulson-Frank because supporters had failed, miserably, to communicate the need for the plan to those who needed to be convinced.
I'm a managing director at a public relations firm and a former national director of public affairs at one of the largest global PR agencies, so please believe me when I say that it's hard, or actually impossible, to argue with this.
From a communications perspective, this has been done about as wrong as is possible. There have been no credible spokespeople, the messages about the plan have been wrong or incomplete, the plan's supporters failed to understand the different audiences that had to be reached, and few people validated the claim that the plan was needed.
As I said earlier in the week, President Bush has been completely ineffective as a communicator on this situation. His statements have failed to close the deal and he has yet, including the statement he made this morning, to make a personal appeal that rings true.
It also hurts that his overall credibility at this late point in his administration is as low as it has ever been in the eight years he has been president. Some surveys show his approval rating at 26 percent. In other words, three out of four Americans don't like what he has done and is doing.
But it's a much larger communications problem than just the president at this moment. No one else in the Bush adminsitration has credibilty on economic issues. Hank Paulson may be the most effectve of the three people who have been Treasury secretary in this administration, but that doesn't say much (Does anyone remember Paul O'Neil and John Snow?). Paulson is obviously smart and tough, and my impression is that he's great in one-to-one conversations. But he's not a good mass communicator and his appearances over the weekend on the Sunday talk shows were not convincing.
In addition, Paulson has pretty much been out there on his own on this issue. Why hasn't the White House included its other economic spokspeople in this conversation? Why haven't the chairman of the Office of Management and Budget, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, and the Commerce secretary actively and very openly advocating for this plan?
The spokespeople, or lack thereof, have been only one part of the problem. Supporters of this plan only communicated with one of the key audiences -- Wall Street -- when several others needed to be included. As of 9:30 am EDT on Tuesday, September 30, I still haven't heard anything that explains to someone not on Wall Street why this plan is important to them. That information exists; it just hasn't been communicated.
Supporters also failed to appreciate that politics would be one of the keys to this. As a result, almost no one explained why passing a plan like this would be better politics than not passing a plan. As a result, voting against the plan became an acceptable alternative.
Finally, where were the validators, that is, where were the outside people who, by saying that Paulson, Frank, Dodd, and Bush were correct, would convince others to support it. This is not something that happens by accident; a typical PR effort would try to arrange such statements.
I'll have more about this later. In the meantime, let's see if the supporters of this plan communicate differently in the next few days.