Friday, October 03, 2008

Bailout Snafu Shows Government Could Use a Lesson in PR

From Katie Noonan - An interesting article by Michael Bush in AdAge.com this week should be read not just by those in public relations industry, but inside the Beltway, too.

According to the article, and many in the public relations field, much of the reason the Bailout Plan has been so unpopular with the public has largely to do with simple PR miscalculations.

What’s in a Name?

The article highlights what both political pundits and public relations experts have been saying since the bill’s inception. The decision by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and the Bush Administration to call it a “bailout plan” was a critical mistake. The term “bailout” connotes providing emergency assistance to keep Wall Street afloat, which leads the American public to ask why?- when a significant portion of the blame can be placed squarely on the shoulders of mortgage companies that made poor investments on high-risk individuals.

In the article, Andrew Benett, CEO of Euro RSCG New York, is quoted as saying that “rescue” would have been a much better term for the plan. According to Benett, "there is nothing redemptive about a bailout. What if this had been called a 'rescue' from the beginning? Or the 'Save Our Homes Act'? Supporting a 'rescue' is a bear of an entirely different species. It is not only a redemptive act, restoring things to their rightful order -- it is heroic." Perhaps a simple change in terminology would have resonated with the American people and garnered more support for the plan early on.

$700 Billion to do…what…exactly?

Another reason the AdAge article highlights for the bill’s unpopularity has to do with the Administration’s failure to effectively communicate to the public why the bill was needed, and why we should shell out another $700 billion, when the federal government is already running a trillion dollar deficit, spending millions each day on the war in Iraq, and many Americans are paying over four dollars at the pump and find themselves struggling to make ends meet in the midst of economic recession.

That’s not to say that a bailout, or ‘rescue’ isn’t necessary, but rather to show that the Bush Administration could have done a better job of communicating why it is necessary, and where our $700 billion would be going in light of so many Americans’ concerns. It’s safe to say that we’d all benefit from a return to economic normalcy, but an American public, always critical of Washington and Wall Street alike doesn’t want to feel as though they’re writing a blank check to Uncle Sam or paying for generous severance packages for CEO’s of failing mortgage companies.

A Cautionary Tale

The bailout controversy shows that an effective public relations campaign that communicates a clear message to the public is crucial whether you’re in the public or the private sector. In this case, it could have meant desperately needed help to our ailing economy sooner rather than later.

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