United message buoys Divided We Fail

Healthcare and financial security for all Americans is a cause that has united three advocacy groups

Healthcare and financial security for all Americans is a cause that has united three advocacy groups

At a recent event hosted by the AARP in Boston, Life@50+, 25,000 people listened to speeches from presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and ex-Arkansas Gov. Michael Huckabee (R).

It makes sense that the candidates would clamor to get in the good graces of the boomers and seniors. According to the US Census Bureau, about 79% of all US citizens age 55 and older were registered to vote in the 2004 presidential election. Nearly 72% actually did, voting in greater numbers than younger demographics. AARP represents 38 million members total, all of them over the age of 50.

AARP launches an effort for each presidential election, but this time it has teamed with the Business Roundtable (BRT) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for Divided We Fail, a PR heavy effort designed to get candidates talking about the issues of financial security and healthcare.

The joint effort is a first for the three groups, one that made them push aside differences to unite. The initiative represents over 50 million members across the consumer marketplace, business, and labor sectors.

"There's a fine line between working together and having our own separate group interests," says Cecelia Prewett, AARP associate director of media relations and social impact. "If you look at the 100,000-foot level, we're all looking for the same thing. The onus can't just be on the government or the private sector. There has to be a consensus."

"These are three organizations that don't necessarily see eye-to-eye," says Eric Hauser, senior adviser for strategy and communications at the SEIU. "When we were talking last fall, it became clear that while that was true, there was common ground on healthcare and financial security."

Fleishman-Hillard is the AOR for AARP and helped with the Divided We Fail launch. All three participating organizations have since helped with PR efforts.

According to the joint Divided We Fail platform, all Americans need affordable healthcare and long-term financial security, two things that many in this US are lacking.

"We've reached crisis level with the huge numbers of the uninsured, the bankruptcies, and the number of people saying they don't have enough money to retire," says Prewett.

Ultimately, of course, they would like to see a solution to what they view as a crisis. But getting the candidates to offer clear solutions that constituents can vote on is just a start.

"Washington is stuck in gridlock," says Prewett. "We know what the issues are. We want actions, answers, and accountability. We launched this effort to discuss this from a layered perspective, so candidates will talk and people can make their decisions."

That layered perspective involves engaging candidates, voters, and volunteers on state and local levels. The nationwide effort has begun in the primary states - Iowa, Nevada, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Florida - with offices in each state to conduct forums with the candidates separate from the debates.

The goal is to get voters to sign a pledge stating that they will vote for a candidate that will work towards solutions for citizens' financial security and healthcare problems. Events will also be held to present national and state-specific data that the campaign is collecting. Since Nevada will hold a caucus for the first time and Florida has become an early-primary state, they are focal points for education efforts.

"We're using every tool in the PR tool-box," says Kirk Monroe, BRT's director of communications.

The campaign has also been working to get the candidates to sign a pledge of bipartisanship in searching for solutions for these issues. A July rally in DC, "Capitol Hill Advocacy Day," gathered 2,000 volunteers from all three groups for this purpose. Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL), Chris Dodd (D-CT), and Clinton have signed that pledge.

The campaign is keeping the candidates on their toes with a Debate Tracker that monitors what they're saying on these issues so that Divided We Fail can issue a "rapid response." The Debate Tracker is on the Divided We Fail Web site, along with opportunities to further collect pledges, enlist volunteers, and provide video, media-hit information, and other campaign details.

"The organization views this as the beginning of a movement," says Prewett. "Not only do [our members] want to hear from the candidates, the candidates must do a better job of discussing financial security and healthcare. This election could hinge on how the candidates address these issues."

BRT represents CEOs from some of the US' biggest corporations, while the SEIU has 1.8 million members representing workers in healthcare and property services, as well as public employees.

At a glance

Initiative: Divided We Fail
Organizations: AARP, Business Roundtable (BRT), and the Service
Employees International Union (SEIU)
Presidents: Bill Novelli, AARP CEO; John Castellani, BRT president; Andy Stern, SEIU international president
Comms Budget: Undisclosed
Headquarters: Washington (all three organizations)
Cecelia Prewett, associate director of media relations and social impact, AARP
In-house AARP health and media relations teams
Eric Hauser, senior adviser for strategy and communication, SEIU
Kirk Monroe, comms director, BRT
Maria Ghazal, director of public policy, BRT
Marketing Services Agencies:
Fleishman-Hillard for the AARP

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