WASHINGTON: The November 4 election, which transferred power of the executive branch to the Democratic party, will now lead to jockeying for political appointments in the communications sector, public affairs experts said.
The Obama administration has already begun appointments. Politico reported last Thursday that Robert Gibbs would be named Obama's press secretary, though it was not confirmed by press time. The appointment of other key administration posts have also been the subject of wide speculation this past week, including chief of staff – which has been accepted by Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel, a former Clinton staffer.
But while many headlines focus on who might join the new administration in these top positions, several hundred communications positions also open up throughout the executive branch as a result of the regime change, said a former Bush administration official now at a DC firm, who spoke on background. Meanwhile, for those leaving the administration, the search for jobs in the private sector has been going on for months.
This time around, though, the Republican political appointees still remaining in public affairs positions at various government firms will likely find far fewer opportunities at agencies, noted Stan Collender, MD at Qorvis Communications. That's not only because of the marked shift to the political left, but also because the economic downturn has caused cutbacks in PR work.
“Still, you'll have lots of jobs for Democrats,” Collender noted. “For some folks coming out of the administration, what often happens in a situation like this is that rather than sticking around town, they go back to [the cities] they came from.”
The former Bush administration official said that because communications positions usually don't require Senate confirmation, these new jobs will be filled quickly, many by the winning campaign's state communications directors.
“You'll see people come off the state campaigns coming into the mixing bowl,” the former official said. “Some with a background in healthcare may go to work at the Department of Health and Human Services, or people with more of an international background may go to the State Department.”
Along with the question of who will fill these communications slots is the question of how they might change administration communications, given the widely admired innovative communications tactics employed by the Obama campaign.
Brian Reich, a principal at EchoDitto and longtime Democratic campaign consultant, said he expected the new White House to quickly implement a number of new tools.
Twitter, for example, will likely be used much more and “open source” software development techniques will be applied.
“The White House will take a very different tone when it comes to figuring out complex policy issues, working with Congress and the like, by trying to get the people more involved, to carry the people's will,” Reich said.
But Bill McIntyre, EVP at Grassroots Enterprise, cautioned that this type of open-ended grassroots campaign might not work well for a president. Supporters can spread the message of a candidate virally through their own creative means and serve as something of an extension of the candidate himself, he said. It can't fully apply to a presidency where specific policy directives require a controlled message by the administration, he added.
“It's going to be hard for Obama to have the same type of interplay online as president,” McIntyre said. “He's definitely going to have new media people [communicating with the public], but he would be wise if he had someone from State Department right next to them. [The messaging] has to pass muster with State, Commerce, and Defense [and so on].”