Government's growing role could be an opportunity for comms strategists

Early in his administration, as the world economy teetered on the brink of collapse, President Obama referred to government as "the buyer of last resort" - that is, the only player at the table with enough chips in front of it to keep the game going.

Early in his administration, as the world economy teetered on the brink of collapse, President Obama referred to government as "the buyer of last resort" - that is, the only player at the table with enough chips in front of it to keep the game going.

One needn't be a political partisan or a poker player to acknowledge that Obama was right about at least one thing: the rules of the game have changed and, with them, so has government's role in our lives.

Will things ever go back to the way they were? Hardly.

Government's size and scope - not only here, but throughout the developed world - was growing before the last presidential election. In all likelihood, it will continue to expand after the next one and the one after that.

The new normal is big government. All industries must account for that in future plans.

A recent survey of senior executives conducted by McKinsey & Company found that they rated government as their companies' second-most important external constituency, right after their customers. And yet, they also said their organizations are not particularly good at dealing with government or affecting its impact on their bottom line.

How are communications strategists and pros responding to this glacial change?

For the most part, I'd say we're behind the curve. We often seem to be operating under the old paradigm: we're playing five-card draw, but the table has moved on to Texas Hold'em.

We often regard government as an impediment to be managed, rather than a source of potential benefit that should be worked into our core planning. During our short history, Kratos Global Strategies has collaborated with NSI, our sister agency, to develop a comprehensive, proactive approach to public affairs, lobbying, and procurement.

The results have been extremely gratifying, but we've just begun to scratch the surface because we're learning more all the time.

We all must keep trying. Communicators will be evaluated just like everyone else - on their ability to drive value to the bottom line. The growing importance of government offers us an opportunity to do just that because communications can and should be the defining discipline in managing the public-private interface.

If we fail to rise to this challenge, we may find ourselves playing "blind man's poker" - a game in which you know your opponent's cards, but have no idea that you hold the winning hand.

Paul Johnson is CEO of Kratos Global Strategies and vice chair-man of Interpoint Group.

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