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Media Strategy: Pitching Health Care Reform

Lots of people have tried and failed, so let’s start right off acknowledging how difficult reforming the health care system in America is – either from the Left or the Right.  But in this particular case, it’s worth looking at what’s bogging it down.  While there are many issues, as a media blogger, I’ve been looking closely at how it’s been pitched in the media and here are my thoughts from a strategy & perception perspective.  Pay attention, because this might help the next time you have to pitch a big project:

1.  I agree with Democratic strategists who are saying that President Obama’s abstract arguments are a big problem.  As the Los Angeles Times reported, his explanations keep changing, so people simply have trouble trusting what he says.   On the other side, conservative columnist Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week that “Every big idea that works is marked by simplicity, by clarity.”   In pitching a major project in the media, it has to be simple to understand.  People understand Social Security, Medicare, and Welfare.  But they don’t get words like “public option,” “single-payer system,” or “insurance marketplace exchange.”   Make it something people can comprehend.

2.  The White House and Congress have drawn unnecessary battle lines.  Nancy Pelosi called concerned citizens at Town Hall Meetings “un-American.” (What’s more American than disagreement?) Others called protesters “Nazis” or “puppets of the insurance industry,” and even the President himself has shown a rather condescending tone when describing those who don’t agree with his position.  Health Care reform is a concern for everyone, and is a challenge for all Americans.  In cases like this, demonizing the opposition only builds support for the other side.  Especially when poll numbers are against you (as they are right now), you shouldn’t be calling the other side (the majority right now) names.  Years ago, the religious right was often guilty of this, but I think they’re finally learning.

3.  A poor defense.   White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod accused people from the Town Hall meetings of “Spreading lies and distortions.”  But have you noticed the number of Town Hall meetings where the citizens had actually read the proposed legislation and the politician sent to defend it hadn’t?  Even President Obama has had a few miscues in this public speeches.   Before you try defending  something in public, get the facts straight.

4.  Don’t forget the power of perception.  Remember the flag@whitehouse.gov email address?  Supposedly it was to report inaccurate information about the health care plan.   Maybe.  But far too many saw it as a Orwellian tool to report on our neighbors we don’t agree with.   In a media-driven culture, perception matters.

5.  “Rushing things through” makes people nervous.  The plan to rush it may have sounded like a good strategy on Capitol Hill, but to the public, it looks like you’re pulling one over on people.

This particular issue isn’t about Left or Right.  It’s about the strategy behind making this plan happen.  If you respond to this post, please respond about good or bad strategy, not get into arguments either for or against the plan.  I’d love to know your ideas – could it have been presented better?  What do you think?

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  1. The Obama ‘campaign’ was stellar at marketing/pitching broad concepts in simple terms and redirecting criticism, so that perception remained positive, BUT the Obama ‘administration’ seems to have lost IT…

    Why do you think so much has changed, in such a short time?

    Thanks for keeping us thinking!

  2. I think perhaps it’s because the bulk of the marketing during the campaign was directed at selling the unknown Obama, and that now reality has set in.  Trying to address real problems to real people is a far different game.

  3. In the car business, they used to say, “If you are going to sell Fords, drive a Ford.”

    Part of the problem is that Obama and congress are trying to sell a product they don’t own themselves, because they don’t see it as good enough. Nobody wants to buy a Ford from a man who is driving a Bentley.

  4. I think the real problem is that the American public has realized that the sense of urgency on this subject was manufactured to try to push something through–and to try to distract us from the reality that our country is being driven into bankruptcy.  I care a whole lot more about $10 trillion in debt that would make us puppets to our creditor nations than I do health care reform.

  5. Totally agree with you, Phil!

    Though, on point #1 – Bill O’Reilly was beating the drum about the President’s “abstract arguments” long before any Democrat strategists were. The folks at Fox News do tend to be blowhards, and it’s not stylish for conservatives to quote them, but I say give credit where it’s due. 

    Let’s hope that the 1,017-page bill (H.R. 3200) that the nation’s been screaming about is taken off the table, and that a reasonable bill like http://www.tinyurl.com/HR3400 becomes the starting point for Healthcare Reform. Because we do need reform.

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