When President Barack Obama spoke to a joint session of Congress in early September about healthcare reform, news reports applauded his delivery and his message.
Obama used the speech to reinforce the notion that healthcare reform is tied to the country's economic recovery and can provide value to all Americans.
With the economy as the top issue in Washington, public affairs professionals have found that similar messaging tactics, which focus on job creation and economic recovery, are resonating with key audiences.
"All industries are incredibly in tune with the economic circumstances that the US is under and are trying to communicate the value of their product or service to overall economic health," says Howard Opinsky, EVP for Powell Tate. "There's an urgent effort to explain the implications of legislation and regulations."Standing out
Although healthcare has been the Obama administration's top domestic priority, there have been increased public affairs efforts surrounding energy and climate change, financial services, and telecommunications.
Messaging, which has always been a crucial part of a successful public affairs program, has become even more important, given the volume of issues in the Washington dialogue, notes Rob Rehg, president of Edelman's Washington office.
"The need for a simple, clear message is paramount," he says. "There's just so many different issues in play that if you're going to have any chance in standing out, you really need to have something that people can connect with immediately."
Fix Housing First, a coalition of home builders and manufacturers, is advocating to extend a stimulus program that gives an $8,000 tax credit to new home-owners. The credit is slated to expire November 30.
Pat Cleary, SVP of digital public affairs for Fleishman-Hillard, which works with the coalition, says messaging focuses 100% on the program's economic appeal.
"That is a very direct and clear example of where we're out there touting the jobs that it's creating, the stability it's bringing, the ripple effect on the economy," he explains. "The jobs issue resonates. For policymakers and members of Congress, knowing that this will save or create jobs in their districts is a huge, positive factor."
Focusing messaging on positive contributions an industry or company makes is also important, as the Obama administration came in on a platform of change.
"To be against change of any kind seems completely out of step," says Opinsky. "The message is becoming multi-faced. It not only [has to] explain the policy implications, but also use communications more broadly to talk about the value of the industry."
Even government agencies that have a stake in these industries have shifted their messaging in the past year.
Ginnie Mae has focused on simplifying its messaging to better reach consumers since its market share has increased in the past year, says Terry Carr, director of communications and marketing for the wholly owned government corporation.
"It requires that we talk about what we do in a way that consumers understand," she adds.Examples of impact
Within the financial services and energy industries, creating messages that use specific examples of why a product and service is vital to the US economy is important, Opinsky notes.
"You must be offering suggestions, offering solutions, being clear about your position and the value your products and services bring to the nation," he says.
The Insured Retirement Institute, formerly the National Association of Variable Annuities, is one example of an organization that underwent a rebranding, including a name change, and shifted its messaging to focus on promoting the value of insured retirement strategies.
"We are in a post-crisis world and need to realize things are getting better," says Chris Paulitz, VP of communications and public affairs for the organization. "There is no better time to realize the benefits of our products."
The Job Message:
Eads North America
The defense company launched an ad campaign in March, focusing on how it acts as a "stimulus package" by employing 200,000 Americans
The coalition, made up of labor, business, and environmental groups, was created earlier this year to push for a "clean energy revolution" and spur domestic job growth
Telecommunications Industry Association
The trade group has advocated for flexible rules in the implementation of grant and loan programs to boost broadband access, create jobs, and contribute to economic growth