Midterm elections' impact likely to elevate role of public affairs

With key elections taking place all across the US November 7, every business sector is preparing itself for what the vote might bring, whether it be a shift in majority control or merely a better representation of what issues are important to the public.

With key elections taking place all across the US November 7, every business sector is preparing itself for what the vote might bring, whether it be a shift in majority control or merely a better representation of what issues are important to the public.

This is especially true of the communications industry, which tailors and manages the messages corporations send out. There may be no national election this year, but local and state elections can have a big impact on the kinds of messages a brand wants to broadcast. Moreover, shifts in the majority in either the House of Representatives or the Senate could mean a shift in policy that may require more crisis control or brand evaluation.

Why does it matter?

It has been 12 years since Republicans took control of the House. A shift in this leadership could mean an increased role for the public affairs agencies that have been dealing on the Hill for the past decade, as a new Democratic majority would need time to learn the lay of the land. "There will be almost as steep a learning curve for 2006 Democrats as there was for the 1994 Republicans," said Jeffrey Sandman, CEO of Hyde Park Communications, in an October 23 article in the Legal Times.

"I think you will also see public affairs make a strong difference in trying to create a message that will resonate even in industries that may be under a more powerful magnifying glass by Democrats," Sandman adds in a conversation with PRWeek. He speculates that the healthcare and pharma industries may be under increased scrutiny if Democrats gain House control.

Five facts:

1. A shift in Congress inevitably will cause a shift in the major players of the communications industry. Many people will leave PR or lobbying posts to join the Hill, while many from the minority party will join the communications ranks.

2. "If we have a [new] majority, I think Democrats will strongly use subpoena power and have lots of investigations into different areas like pharma, financial investment, and energy companies," says Trent Duffy, principal at Duffy PR Strategies.

3. "Clearly, the War in Iraq is seminal," says Torod Neptune, SVP and head of the US public affairs practice for Waggener Edstrom, "but I think some of these more transactional issues that relate to where people live are also significant."

4. "We always are looking to bring in people from the Hill," says Pam Jenkins, Powell Tate/Weber Shandwick president. "While party affiliations aren't a condition of employment, it is important to us to have different perspectives."

5. With the same party having control of Congress and the White House for the past six years, public affairs battles have been waged on a more state-by-state basis. If a shift in the majority occurs, those issues may be brought to a more national level, resulting in more work for the public affairs sector.

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