Beltway experience validates the increasing importance of strategic comms.

After leaving the White House as counselor to President George W. Bush at the end of his term this past January, many were surprised I didn't return to lobbying, but instead opened a new strategic planning and communications firm.

After leaving the White House as counselor to President George W. Bush at the end of his term this past January, many were surprised I didn't return to lobbying, but instead opened a new strategic planning and communications firm. Given the rapid changes in public affairs, they shouldn't have been.

Lobbying remains a vital means of conveying information to a target audience of policy-makers. However, other ways of shaping the broader environment in which policy decisions are made have mushroomed and gained in both importance and influence.

I've lobbied and been lobbied. I have advocated policies and participated in the policy-making process at various levels of Congress, as well as at the White House. As such, I understand what has an impact from all perspectives.

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, my old boss, has a saying that on the floor of the House of Representatives, “Votes beat money every time.” Helping to shape the public perceptions surrounding an issue has a much greater impact than individual lobbying and endless fundraisers.

The strongest impact of smart communications and public affairs is not so much in how policies are shaped, but what policies end up being considered at all. In Washington, the urgent drives out the important. Making sure policy-makers understand why action on a certain issue is urgent – or why it's not – falls under the purview of broader public affairs.

Any lobbyist worth his or her retainer can explain why a member of Congress should vote a certain way, or why a cabinet secretary should adopt a certain position. The greater challenge is not about explaining why, but why now.

Elevating “why” to “why now” involves a broad array of tools, including grassroots organization, Internet mobilization, and more. In an era when people instinctively reach for their Blackberrys upon first waking up, it involves texting, Tweeting, and e-mailing.

In my last year in the White House, public pressure over high gas prices spurred action by both the President and the Democratic Congress to allow offshore US drilling for the first time in three decades. There was genuine outcry for more domestic energy, but there was also a coordinated public affairs effort that helped policy-makers understand not only why lifting the longtime offshore drilling ban made sense, but why now.

Throughout 25 years in politics, government, and business, I've always enjoyed strategic communications most. And it's never been more important than now.

Ed Gillespie, former counselor to President George W. Bush, recently founded Ed Gillespie Strategies. He was RNC chair from 2003-2004 and a principal at Quinn Gillespie and Associates from 2000-2007.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.