By Ashley Manz, Account Executive, R&J Public Relations
Whether you are into politics or not, everyone knows the government is closed for business. It’s easy to say the shutdown could have been avoided, but it would have taken more than both sides compromising on their principles. As public relations professionals, we’ve seen the scenario happen before: a client is set in their own way, doesn’t realize their brand is at risk and makes a move (or makes no move at all) that damages the brand.
PR professionals are always on the lookout to know when a client’s brand is at risk. In this case, Congress had a deadline of September 30. The government was going to shut down if both Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree on a continuing resolution (CR) by the end of the fiscal year. When September came and pressure began to build, Congress (and its brand) was in a compromised position; their brand was already at risk, burnishing some of the lowest approval ratings in American history. The actual shutdown of the government was a clear line in the sand that if it were crossed, would almost certainly cause a dramatic downturn in the brand of the United State Congress.
A handful of Republicans or Democrats could be viewed as saviors by ending the shut down if they put partisanship aside. Minority Leader Pelosi could deliver Democrats to join Republicans, Speaker Boehner could take the non-Tea Party-affiliated members of his party to join Democrats in ending this impasse.
Now that Congress has crossed the line in the sand it will need to work to repair its brand. Just like a PR firm does for many of its clients, Congress will need to look internally to salvage their brand. Here’s where they could start:
1. Know your stakeholders. In order to get your message out correctly, you need to identify your primary audience — in this scenario, the constituents of the congressional districts represented by the House of Representatives. These will be the people who are your prime target, and who are critical to the success of your company. At the end of the day, the constituents of a congressional district are almost like the Board of Directors that either vote to extend a Congressman’s term or end it. Your secondary audience will consist of an audience that will receive information and new brand messaging from the primary audience. These can be stakeholders in the same state as their district, or in Senator Ted Cruz’s case, the entire country.
2. Understand the media temperature. Moving forward, it is critical to do research and conduct frequent media audits to fully know and completely understand the message the media has built around your brand. When your brand is either at-risk or fully damaged, you have to objectively view your audience to listen to what they are actually saying about you. When you know this, you can build a strategy and message to recover your brand.
3. Know your boiling point. At what point have you gone too far? Or did you not go far enough? Essentially, where is your line in the sand? You have to be fully aware of the focal point where things can go wrong.
4. What sort of message discipline do you need during brand recovery? Brands can easily crash if the internal team is not on the same page. Make sure you are building key messages for your brand that your entire company understands.
While trying to revive a brand, your key message should be simple and to the point. It will be easier for your audience to comprehend what you want them to know. Surely when it comes to public financing, the average voter or spectator may not get what’s at hand, but anyone remotely paying attention will know that the shutdown essentially hinges on the decision to either continue to fund or to defund the Affordable Care Act.
Just as Congress is in the midst of a brand crisis, companies can sometimes find themselves similarly enmeshed in a predicament. But brands can, and often do, recover. These public relations tactics can be a helpful start if and when you find yourself or your client in a brand meltdown.