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Government relations professionals refusing to acknowledge and leverage public relations as part of influencing public policy are falling behind the times. A new study by The Center of Public Integrity found that some of the nation’s largest trade associations spent nearly twice as much on public relations than lobbying.
According to the study, of $3.4 billion in contracts reported by the 144 trade groups from 2008 through 2012, more than $1.2 billion, or 37 percent, went toward advertising, public relations and marketing services, more than any other category. The second-highest total, $682.2 million, or 20 percent of the total, was directed toward legal, lobbying and government affairs.
Public relations is more than just creating a persuasive storyline. If done correctly, PR educates the public, which creates credibility. It humanizes the legal jargon that goes into statutes.
The study singles out American Petroleum Institute. It stated, “The oil and gas industry trade group spent more than $7 million lobbying federal officials in 2012. But that sum was dwarfed by the $85.5 million it paid to four public relations and advertising firms to, in effect, lobby the American public — including $51.9 million just to global PR giant Edelman.”
“From 2008 through 2012, annual tax filings show, the API paid Edelman a staggering $327.4 million for advertising and public relations services, more than any other contractor.” (source PRnewser)
What happens in DC, typically follows in the state capitols. Every year, more contract lobbyists, state trade associations, corporations and special interests retain public relations firms to elevate their narratives. Strategic communications and messaging target a coalition of stakeholders ranging from the news media to thought leaders to activists to public officials.
Some would argue it’s a black eye on American Democracy, while others argue it’s educating the public on the merits of issues that impact their daily lives.
I’m the first to admit that PR is used to persuade minds and influence public policy. That’s a given. However, I disagree with the study’s premise that it’s about manufacturing misinformation. In today’s Digital Age, people are media savvy, so if PR looks like spin, smells like spin, and feels like spin (a.k.a. Astroturf), then it often backfires and becomes a liability.
I would counter that it’s not how much PR is being used to influence public policy, but rather, the absence of public relations. When there’s no PR, that’s when the red flags should go up and the public made aware.
About Patrick Slevin
Patrick Slevin heads SL7 Consulting. Go to www.PatrickSlevin.com for more information.
Jeb Bush is the political story of 2015. His non-announcement for President has Americans talking from both the left and the right. Surprisingly, liberals and Tea Partiers have come together in expressing their common angst for Jeb. Liberals have come out attacking Jeb as a conservative in moderate’s clothing, while Tea Partiers have publicly crucified Jeb as a false prophet of conservatism.
To make matters worse, Jeb recently stated at a Wall Street Journal conference last month that he would be willing to “lose the primary to win the general without violating [his] principles.”
When you mention Jeb as a Presidential candidate to Tea Partiers, they all have the same dismissive look of disgust and anger. Issues on immigration, Common Core and the Bush brand makes Jeb’s presidential nomination very unlikely.
So how will Jeb Bush win the GOP’s presidential nomination, save the party from itself, and still be able to win the White House?
The key to Jeb’s success and the Republican Party winning the White House is Ronald Reagan.
In June of 2012, Jeb made a prophetic statement that set the tone for his 2016 presidential run and the potential future of the Republican Party.
Jeb in an interview stated that Ronald Reagan (and his dad) would have had difficulty getting the GOP nomination for President if he were to run today. Meaning, Tea Party Republicans who profess their love for Reagan would today, reject one of the country’s greatest Presidents.
As California’s governor, Reagan passed the largest tax increase in California’s and the nation’s history at the time. Over $1 billion. Reagan would also increase taxes when he was President. Reagan had Tip O’Neil, Democratic Speaker of the House to accommodate. Reagan accepted tax increases to get his historic tax cuts.
In today’s social-media fed environment, Reagan would have been vilified by the Tea Party, had he tried to broker the same deal today. Reagan’s position on immigration and deficit spending would further fuel a Tea Party backlash.
President Reagan would have been called a RINO (Republican-In-Name-Only) and a moderate by Tea Party operatives, as well as talk show radio. See: 5 Reasons Why Ronald Reagan Couldn’t Make It in Today’s GOP.
Reagan’s conservative rhetoric didn’t always match his actions as President. This is a fact that many Tea Party leaders ignore. It’s the 800 pound, pardon the pun, elephant in the room. It’s just easier to keep conservatives’ heads in the sand and conducting conservative witch hunts to see which Republicans float or sink.
This may explain why Jeb defiantly testified before a House Budget Committee in 2012, “If you could bring to me a majority of people to say that we’re going to have $10 in spending cuts for $1 of revenue enhancement — put me in, coach.”
Jeb was attacked by the right and talk radio as a blasphemer.
A CONSERVATIVE GOVERNOR
Unlike President Obama who didn’t have a body of work before he was elected President, Jeb was governor of Florida for eight years. Anyone who has worked in Florida politics, business, and government will tell you Jeb was a conservative governor. More than Reagan.
As governor, Jeb carried out the principles of conservatism: He cut taxes, privatized government, balanced budgets, reduced deficits, legal reform, reformed education to include school vouchers, to name just a few.
Even today, nearly 10 years after he left the governor’s office, Jeb’s popularity is still riding high and conservative candidates actively seek out Jeb’s coveted political endorsement. As recently as this week, Lenny Curry, Republican candidate for mayor of Jacksonville was the latest to be endorsed by Jeb who said, “Lenny Curry is exactly the principled conservative needed to lead Jacksonville to a better, brighter future.”
RISE OF THE TEA PARTY
Jeb’s tenure as governor concluded one election cycle before Obama was elected President in 2008. During Obama’s first two-years, conservatives pined for another Reagan to lead and fight for America. The anger and powerlessness we felt as conservatives was palpable. It seemed the only voices for conservatives came from talk radio.
The Obamacare town hall meetings over the summer of 2010 would become the catalyst for sending Conservative Republicans to Congress, with the mission of stopping Obama’s collective efforts to weaken, socialize and decimate America. The Tea Party had arrived, which I celebrated at the time.
In 2010, there was a void of Republican leadership, which gave rise to angry conservatives who felt disenfranchised within the Republican Party. For a time, the anger was directed toward stopping Obamacare, but that anger would grow toward the GOP establishment, which became evident in the U.S. House of Representatives and Congressional primaries.
For two election cycles, Republicans were infighting and could only come together, over 50 times and still counting, to repeal Obamacare in the House of Representatives. During this period, the GOP transformed from a party of positive, forward-thinking, problem solving optimists, with an inspiring vision for America to simply “The Party of No”.
A PARTY OF TOMORROW
As I see it, the Tea Party is predicated on fighting Obama’s socialist agenda. Not to say it hasn’t worked, because the Tea Party was a great force behind the Republican waves of 2010 and 2014, but that was Congress. Presidential elections are a different electoral beast as we witnessed with Obama being re-elected in 2012.
Jeb is the GOP’s best chance of winning Florida. Who else on the GOP bench can win? If you cannot win Florida, then step aside.
In his latest column in Forbes, political pollster John Zogby dialed in on the impact of a Bush candidacy, “Bring on the Cruz’s, Carsons, Santorums, Christies, Huckabees and Pauls. But watch the two real candidates (Jeb & Mitt) and listen to the real debate. One of these guys can actually win the Presidency and save the party from itself.”
Reagan would endorse Jeb for several reasons. First, he appointed Jeb’s dad as his Vice President. George H.W. Bush was part of the GOP establishment, the same establishment that fought and defeated Reagan in 1976. Second, Jeb is a practical mainstream conservative who will compromise to pass good policy, without compromising conservative principles.
Third, both liberals and far-right conservatives had beefs with Reagan. Today, it’s Jeb who is emerging as an outlier for mainstream conservatism, much like Reagan in 70’s and 80’s.
Fourth, Bush is a winning brand. Americans like successful brands that win and so did The Gipper.
Most importantly, Reagan would have been savvy enough to know that any Republican presidential candidate must win Florida. For over two decades, Florida has had Republican governors and Republican legislatures, but the state not only voted for Obama once, but twice! Not to mention that Florida Republicans cast more votes for John McCain in 2008 than they did Mitt Romney in 2012.
Jeb is the GOP’s best chance of winning Florida. Who else on the GOP bench can win? If you cannot win Florida, then step aside.
REAGAN REALITY CHECK
Ronald Reagan is the reason why I became a Republican. Ronald Reagan is my inspiration as a practical conservative. Ronald Reagan is my hope for Republican Party winning the White House in 2016.
It’s clear that Reagan was a practical or mainstream conservative who bent and sometimes abandoned conservative principles to pass public policy. The result was Morning In America, which underwrote the legend and the myth of the Reagan Revolution.
Jeb Bush may be the next Ronald Reagan or even better. Tea Party Conservatives need to re-examine why they loved Reagan and would they vote for him today. Of course they would and that’s why Tea Parties need to take another look at Jeb.
A Reagan quote from 1977 gets to the heart of the matter:
The principles of conservatism are sound because they are based on what men and women have discovered through experience in not just one generation or a dozen, but in all the combined experience of mankind…I have seen the conservative future and it works…Our task is not to sell a philosophy, but to make the majority of Americans, who already share that philosophy, see that modern conservatism offers them a political home.
JEB’S CONSERVATIVE ALGORITHM
On January 14, 2015, Stanford University researchers at Crowdpac ranked republican candidates on where they were on the conservative spectrum. Crowdpac CEO and co-founder Steven Hilton, said, “The data we have suggests that [Jeb’s] much more in line with the [Republican] average than people are thinking.”
In fact, Hilton went on to say that the data suggested Bush is nearly in line with the Republican mainstream on education and immigration, despite a wide perception on the right that he’s too moderate because of his support for Common Core and an immigration overhaul.
JEB’S RIGHT TO RISE
Jeb is at the mainstream of conservatism. Still Jeb needs to campaign and articulate his vision for America. He will need to answer several hardball questions and explain his positions on immigration and Common Core.
There’s much more to Jeb Bush than the hyperbole seen in the echo chambers of talk radio.
Jeb is the only candidate who has the conservative credentials, the executive leadership and brand name that offers a majority of Americans a political home.
Jeb Bush’s presidential candidacy is the GOP’s best chance for bringing mainstream conservatism and Morning Back to America.
SL7 Communications is led by Patrick Slevin, whose meteoric rise in public relations started when he was elected the youngest GOP mayor in the nation in 1996. Six months after his election, Patrick was appointed spokesman and surrogate for presidential candidate U.S. Senator Bob Dole. Since 1996, Patrick has educated opinion leaders and engaged stakeholders as a Florida mayor, Fortune 500 corporate public relations manager, national trade association communications director, international agency executive, corporate trainer and public speaker.