How strategy will differ in a divided government

If political pundits and polling data are to be believed, November 2 will usher in an era of divided American government.

If political pundits and polling data are to be believed, November 2 will usher in an era of divided American government.

Voters will ultimately decide whether the dividing line will be drawn between the White House and Congress, or if Congress itself will be subject to two-party control.   

Regardless of the nature of the split, any form of divided government presents challenges to corporations, trade associations, and other groups that rely on communications strategies to influence public policy.

Lobbyists, of course, will also have to adjust. In a world where access reigns supreme, Capitol Hill staffers working for the party in control of Congress will increasingly be lured away to work as lobbyists. It has become something of a parlor game for DC insiders to speculate on the rise and fall of salaries earned by staffers-turned-lobbyists.

An effective communications strategy, in contrast, requires a more thoughtful approach. Three principles should guide PR professionals' efforts to adapt to the changed political climate:

Invest in Research. To achieve either of the following goals, PR professionals must be willing to spend more time and resources on research. Too often, public affairs campaigns are planned and executed without spending any money on message testing or polling.  

Find the common ground. Whenever possible, use messaging that resonates with both parties. Admittedly, areas of policy agreement are increasingly rare but identifying areas of consensus and developing messages with broad, bipartisan appeal will maximize any campaign's effectiveness.

Implement localized approaches. Where consensus is lacking, public affairs campaigns must use sophisticated district-by-district (or state-by-state) approaches. Influencing Congress will increasingly require different messaging and different tactics for different House members and senators who represent different parts of the country.

Smart communicators will recognize that a divided government requires the kind of nuanced PR campaign that can be developed only with an upfront investment in research.

Jeff Mascott is MD of Adfero Group

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