Organizations tread carefully to gain super committee's ear

With a Thanksgiving week deadline looming for the congressional "super committee," lobbyists have under a month for their messages to be heard by the panel.

With a Thanksgiving week deadline looming for the congressional "super committee," lobbyists have under a month for their messages to be heard by the 12-member, bipartisan panel.

The committee will decide in what areas to find $1.2 trillion in 10-year budget savings, an unprecedented amount that could impact companies in all sectors. Despite what's at stake, public affairs pros say most organizations have avoided a blanket approach to their communications.

"That's why there hasn't been any evidence in DC of any companies doing major, large-scale campaigns, in part because they would worry that strategy would backfire," says Pam Jenkins, president of Powell Tate. "You can't seem to be spending a lot of money now to make your case and influence the committee."

Powell Tate is working on behalf of several clients and has also stressed to them the importance of communicating a value message to the committee.

"There is great recognition that it will be a new era of austerity," Jenkins tells PRWeek. "What we're seeing is a great sense from organizations to make their value case in a way that is compelling and a little more laser-focused."

She says companies need to present studies, as well as other evidence and proof points that speak to that value message.

A long-term focus
Michael Robinson, SVP at Levick Strategic Communications, says, "Never before has the nation turned over - some would say abdicated - such an enormous responsibility. It's still too early to tell whether the super committee will be open to persuasion.

"But for companies and others who want to influence the decisions of the super committee," he adds, "the most effective will be those who can demonstrate long-term gain. Remember, the goal of the committee is to achieve long-term fiscal stability."

In its lobby efforts, the Cancer Action Network, the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, has focused on the value of its research dollars - cancer survival rates have improved - while stressing the need for continued funding, given incidents are on the rise.

Chris Hansen, president of the network, says, "We are not only contacting members of the super committee, but also a number of authorization and appropriation committees, which will be giving the super committee information about the programs they fund and the levels at which they think they should be funded.

"We're basically talking to everyone in an effort to build a real consensus," he continues.

The network has more than 100 staff in Washington, as well as lobbyists in every state. And on its annual federal "lobby day" in September it brought in more than 600 advocates from every congressional district in the US. Some of those advocates spoke to media and attended congressional visits, which were arranged on behalf of the organization by Soap Box Consulting.

"I'd say about one-third of the people involved were cancer survivors," says Hansen. "That helps put into context for people the impact of the research and the treatments that have been found. It helps put a name and face to the research."

Key upcoming dates

November 23
Deadline for super committee to present plan containing a minimum of $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction

December 2
Super committee must submit report and legislative language to the White House and Congress

December 23
Deadline for both houses to vote on committee bill

January 15, 2012
Trigger date for $1.2 trillion in future spending cuts if the super committee's legislation has not been enacted

Combined efforts
The US Chamber of Commerce has also been employing all available communications, says Blair Latoff, director of communications. That includes direct lobbying, as well as "utilizing our federation [chambers of commerce, trade associations] to leverage our communications and gain multipliers."

For instance, on September 29, the chamber joined the Business Roundtable and National Association of Concessionaries, as well as 152 other associates and state and local chambers, in sending a letter to the committee. The letter was also copied to members of Congress, urging reform of entitlement programs and the restructuring of the US tax code.

If the super committee presents a plan by November 23, Congress would have until December 23 to vote on the recommendations. If either deadline is not met, automatic spending cuts would be triggered beginning in 2013.

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