Gore and Bush staffers get PR litigation crash course

WASHINGTON: American politics waded into an unprecedented quagmire as the results of the presidential election were dragged through Florida's court system last week. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the work of the campaigns' communications specialists.

WASHINGTON: American politics waded into an unprecedented quagmire as the results of the presidential election were dragged through Florida's court system last week. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the work of the campaigns' communications specialists.

WASHINGTON: American politics waded into an unprecedented quagmire as the results of the presidential election were dragged through Florida's court system last week. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the work of the campaigns' communications specialists.

The PR challenges changed overnight. Instead of going on their long-awaited vacations, campaign staffers got crash courses in litigation PR.

Where they had been pushing big ideas at the expense of detail, they suddenly found themselves having to alert the public to the finer points of Florida election law and court decisions that often hinged on obscure, legal minutiae.

The transition was hardly smooth. 'The campaigns got off-stride by trying to apply campaign communications tactics to a litigation situation,' observed Neal Fleiger, general manager at Edelman PR, who boasts considerable litigation PR experience. 'I don't know that you need to have your campaign chairman arguing the difference between hanging and swinging chads.'

Court decisions were handed down almost as fast as new suits were being filed, and PR workers from both sides struggled to keep their messages ahead of the curve. But the details on which these messages hinged were largely lost on a public unable to keep up.

Said Karen Doyne, director of litigation communication at Ketchum: 'The key now is: keep it simple, stupid. The public clearly doesn't have the patience or the interest to be drawn into the legal wrangling.'

Though opinions varied wildly, Doyne felt Bush's message was simpler, and hence was having a stronger impact. 'All they're saying is, 'We won.' Gore's message is too complex, and by nature it is too difficult to communicate effectively.'

As the week progressed, however, the Gore team seemed to recognize its mistake and made moves to correct it.

David Boies, the lawyer widely credited for turning around the US government's monopoly suit against Microsoft, touched down in Florida on the side of the Democrats. With a reputation for drama and a flair for making his case to the public as competently as he does to the courts, his arrival sent a wave of excitement through the press.

Which, of course, is what matters in the end. 'The game is for each campaign to exert pressure on the other campaign's legal strategy by influencing public opinion,' said Doyne, 'and Boies will no doubt be a great help to them.'



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