Groups take on vital issues with solution-based message

After the health bill passage in March, the attention of policymakers and communications pros specializing in public affairs has turned to looming financial reform and climate bills.

After the health bill passage in March, the attention of policymakers and communications pros specializing in public affairs has turned to looming financial reform and climate bills.

Even as groups streamlined messaging in recent years to prepare for legislation, many looked at public affairs tactics that were successful in the first year of the Obama administration and how they could translate to the current lobbying issues in Washington.

Peter Segall, MD of Edelman's Washington office, says some organizations recognized there was a "Yes, we can" environment with the Democrats controlling Congress. They knew that earning a seat at the table early in a debate could lead to positive outcomes.

"It's not just about asking for it or demanding it," he suggests. "It's about saying we come to the table with a social purpose that is broader than our bottom line."

One notable example in the past 12 months is PhRMA. Unlike AHIP (America's Health Insurance Plans) and the American Medical Association, PhRMA addressed healthcare reform by offering a solution in the form of price cuts for drugs over the next 10 years and communications support to the White House.

The drug lobby not only partnered with groups such as the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) and Families USA to support reform, it also brokered a deal in June 2009 that prevents government price curbs while providing $80 billion toward the cost of healthcare reform.

Offering solutions
Greg Crist, VP of strategic communication at public affairs agency Dutko Worldwide, says such actions help an organization present itself as a contributor to the public-policy process.

"You need something to give you more fine-tuned leverage and edge, especially on the Hill," notes Crist, adding that polling, market research, and surveys can provide a strategic benefit to media relations programs as well.

As the policy debate around financial services ramped up, The Financial Services Roundtable has focused on a media relations program that communicates positive reasons why it supports financial reform, explains Scott Talbott, SVP of government affairs.

"We're also focusing on the fact that the system is broken and needs to be reformed," he adds. "Coming from the people who were part of the problem, that's strong, that's powerful."

The American Gas Association, which is working on the financial reform and climate change bills, has also used media relations to establish its policy platform, says Chris Hogan, communications director.

Along with outreach to the Beltway and regional media, the trade group has used its blog to provide information to supplement its messaging.

"People and organizations look to us to provide useful, factual, credible information that can help shape an argument," says Hogan. "That's something we've really worked hard to reinforce through media relations, social media outreach, and the different campaigns and coalitions we're involved with."

Several agency sources cited the energy and gas industries as taking leadership on related policy issues, similar to how PhRMA and the Biotechnology Trade Organization handled healthcare reform.

Edelman's Segall says, "You'll see in the energy or financial debate, that those organizations able to frame their existence from a broader common public purpose will succeed more readily than those with a narrow self-serving interest."

Yet even as attention focuses on the financial and climate bills, the question lingers as to how mid-term elections will affect the current Democratic momentum if Republicans gain control.

"People's strategies would change," he adds. "There are a number of bills being debated where the intent of the majorities is to get them done before summer, certainly before the election."

Pursuit of Policy Platforms:

Goal: Prevent curbs on drug prices in healthcare reform bill
Key tactic: Reform financial system without added restrictions and proprietary trading
Results: Advocate for industry in climate bill, including allocating 12% of allowances

Financial Services Roundtable
Goal: Established partnerships with White House, SEIU, and Families USA
Key Tactic: Focus on positive messaging, use proactive media relations
Results: Develop credible content to validate messaging

American Gas Association
Goal: Drug industry lauded for its “win” following passage of health bill
Key tactic: Legislation pending
Results: Legislation pending

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