A PR Plan We Can Believe In

January 28, 2009

As the economic crisis accelerates this new year, several economists believe a fundamental lack of trust is also at fault.

“While trust is fundamental to all trade and investment, it is particularly important in financial markets, where people depart with their money in exchange for promises,” the economists write. “Promises that aren’t worth the paper they’re written on if there is no trust.”

As political, financial and corporate leaders struggle to come to grips with responding to a problem that at this point does not have a clear solution, it seems to me responsible communications professionals are needed now more than at any recent time in our history. Not to spread lies, confusion or propaganda, as some cynics might allege, but instead to build trust and confidence through well-crafted, informed and transparent messaging.

What we have right now is an event that appears to be of the historical magnitude of a world war, Great Depression or 9/11. Unlike those times in our history, however, news is not brought to us via just the newspaper, radio or even cable news. Conversations travel unfiltered and uncontrolled across the globe in mere minutes. Simultaneously, we have lost a great many journalists, the ones whose job it was to be Gatekeepers. Their outlets shut down, shrinking advertising venues. While economists for 70 years have considered why our economy tanked and then stagnated for 10 years in the 1930s, as a communications professional I wonder how different history might have been if those poignant, amazing newspaper photos of the Dust Bowl or unemployment lines were transmitted instantly via blogs, Twitter and Facebook, instead.

Thing is, I have no idea. And it sort of scares me.

It seems most economists believe responding to the global economic depression we’re currently embroiled in is tied to many different factors. Any plan that is devised is likely to be messy. It’s likely not to work some of the time. It’s likely to cause contraversy. It’s likely to be massive.

So where is the comprehensive communications plan that tells people why we need to do this, how we’re going to do this and how we’re doing when we do it? This economic stimulus plan needs a brand and it needs a philosophy people can get behind, like “Change we can believe in.” It needs to be the Nike of job creation. It needs to take the economic concept of “zero lower bound” and translate it to, “Don’t freak out. Go ahead a spend a little extra this month in Target.” It can’t be bullshit. It needs to have strong, current, truthful, transparent and positive messaging. It needs to embrace old media and new media.

What is shaping up right now is one of the largest public policy initiatives of all time, yet it is being communicated and advocated in the old style, via press conferences, behind-the-scenes meetings and stops at Meet The Press–all of which are very important, but very old fashioned. So far, I have been impressed with President Obama and his progressive takes on transparency and public relations, but for I think $819 billion dollars is going to demand more than weekly YouTube vlogs.

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