This is a great article that is definitely worth reading. The author's premise is that the administration's lackluster communications strategies and tactics are the critical factors why Americans haven't bought into the bailout plan.
She points out a number of critical strategies that good advertising execs stick to when creating really effective TV spots. And, of course, these are just as important in the world of public relations – Make the subject easy to understand, frequently repeat your core message, personalize that story so your audience really feels it, ensure that it’s accurate and my favorite... be specific. We often refer to this last point as specifically “identifying the pain.” Specific to this bailout, it means if your audience fails to act by not supporting this bill, what real, acute pain will they feel?
It's safe to say that Paulson and his boss Bush failed on every one of these strategies. Paulson didn’t make anything easy to comprehend. In fact, no one really understood what this crisis was technically about until the media figured out how to dumb it down. Neither Paulson, nor his people, brought us any clarity on what these securitized bonds really mean to Main Street. As smart as Paulson certainly is, I thought he was a very poor spokesperson. He rarely reinforced anything that made sense and the few phrases that were uttered consistently were so broad ("we have a very good plan"), that they didn't mean anything. Come to think of it, I now question whether he was ever really speaking to the American public. Unlike almost every politician, he never brought up any specific, very personal and heart wrenching stories about “a family in Wisconsin that wouldn’t be able to send Johnny to college because those student loans wouldn’t exist.” Or, “the farmer in Iowa who would certainly lose his third generation farm because the bank would take away his line of credit which supports his harvest.”
Ok. I know. I should cut the treasury secretary a little slack. After all, he only had a few days and was trying to save the world. Then again, I could choose to view this through a different lens. Paulson was not only the chief architect, but also the lead salesman for this monumentally important bill. Perhaps he (and his advisors) could (or should) have taken a wee bit more time to think about the stimulus they planned to communicate to the American people, so that the desired response (and outcome of the bill) would have been entirely different.
Then again, the real question here is which came first… the chicken or the egg? I tend to believe that all those politicians (the eggs) who voted down the bill were way ahead of their skeptical American constituents (uh…the chickens). They had plenty of time to calculate, craft and then communicate a very savvy platform known as “Wall Street versus Main Street.” And, because this message was so simple, easy to understand and personalized, it clearly resonated with both the media and those key publics in a way that the bailout bill never could. It made many angry and it brought out the worst type of hate and ugliness (“get those investor crooks”) based on nothing but a great slogan standing in front of a smoke and mirrors reality. And look at the outcome: A bill that never saw the light of day and an economy that is teetering on the edge. Talk about the power of effective communications…