PR, Stat–Part II

August 16, 2009 at 7:28 pm Leave a comment

In an earlier post, I reviewed PR efforts on both sides of the Obama Administration’s healthcare reform plan. Since then, the public relations war has escalated. Town halls held by pro-administration politicians have taken on the appearance of a WWE tour with heckling, shouting and scuffles…and plenty of media attention on the confrontations.

Other developments of note:

Sarah Palin has refused to go quietly from public life as she took ownership of the soundbite “Death Panels,” used as a synonym for a House provision to have Medicare cover end-of-life counseling. And per the social media era, she has used Facebook as her communications platform on the subject.

Wendall Potter, former corporate communications VP for major insurer Cigna, claims that the insurance industry is engaging in aggressive public relations tactics including use of buzzwords to “get people upset.” Now a member of the watchdog “Center for Media and Democracy,” Potter is knowledgeable and passionate about healthcare reform, but his “revelations” about the insurance industry’s PR maneuvers are far from explosive.

AARP is spending millions on ads promoting healthcare reform. But the lobbying group is facing unaccustomed opposition from its own constituents, manifested in protests and membership cancellations.

President Obama is pledging a new PR push of his own, including attending the type of town hall meetings where protesters have assailed Democratic representatives and senators. And to prove that Sarah Palin does not have the corner on Web savvy, the White House is updating its “Reality Check” site to counter claims against its initiatives.

Still, the tide is turning against the Administration. President Obama’s poll numbers are slipping, and a plurality is opposed to his healthcare reform measures. The Senate is dropping the end-of-life counseling provision, deeming it “confusing.”  The White House is backing away from a government-run health insurance option, saying now it is “not the essential element” of healthcare reform.

The last point underscores the Administration’s problem–just what is healthcare reform? If a government-run option–for better or worse–is taken off the table, how do President Obama and his allies define their program? The opposition has far less trouble creating word pictures–death panels, socialized medicine, Big Brother, boondoggle. Granted these terms are clichéd and simplistic, but they convey concepts quickly. The Administration has the more difficult role in the court of public opinion, that of the prosecutor who must make a case beyond reasonable doubt. It may not be fair that the White House is at such a disadvantage, but that’s its true Reality Check.

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Entry filed under: Crisis Communications, Leadership, Media, Public Affairs, Public Relations. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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