Communicating the global financial crisis; a case study in bad language
01 October 2008
of the Bush finance rescue plan is a case study in poor communication and
public affairs management. Also, in counting. Looks like no-one got the Congress vote numbers right. Who is managing the issue at the White House,
or anywhere for that matter?
language. The communicators haven’t clearly
outlined who their audiences are, and then crafted the language to appeal to
them. At the moment it sounds like language designed for alienation all round. Those demonstrating on the streets in Washington and New
York have made it very clear that the idea of ‘bailing
out’ Wall Street’s high flying greed merchants is untenable. Their posters and slogans are clear and
concise; this is about greed and punishing gamblers. Somewhere lurking behind those vox pops and
posters is the sniff of voters suspicious that the wool has been pulled over
their eyes for too long. They seem to be
rejoicing that now is their day of reckoning with those smarty pants bankers
and others who allowed the situation to get this bad in the first place – the legislators.
beginning of this crisis nobody in the front line of the issue seems to have
used language that counters that natural urge for punitive measures and
embraces all of us by making it our own issue.
We haven’t been convinced that the proposed solution has been carefully
crafted to resolve or at least lesson all our suffering and ensure better
control. It is such a failure of
message crafting that their own party
members of Congress have not been convinced that this type of spending is good
for the nation. No wonder the taxpayers
of the US,
who will reportedly be shelling out $5000 each for the deal, haven’t bought it
issue has been allowed for so long to be termed a Wall Street problem is at the
heart of the problem. It has limited the
cause of the crisis to a narrow street in New York that symbolizes all that is good
and bad about capitalism. These are the
guys we all want to see suffer, not revive to come back and do it all again.
about the deliverers of the message; President
Bush and Treasury Secretary Poulson? Notwithstanding
polls that have the President low on management ability (and even credibility) and
media who note that Mr Poulson is from the dark side (that is to say, a veteran banker), they just don’t cut it communicating
complex ideas in this emotional environment.
(After all, Bush hasn’t done at all well convincing Americans and the rest of the
world that a war on terror and all that is evil to free thinkers is such a good
idea. How on earth are we to expect he
can communicate the message that spending government money on worthless loans
that might never come good is the answer?)
is timing. This is an election year in
and nervous campaigners are listening to the mum and dad voters – the one’s
marching in the streets and shouting slogans about punishing greed. They know this is about the only time in
their four year election cycles when they can actually make a difference. Surely the public affairs professionals in
the White House sat down and worked out a list of those most vulnerable to
these constituents, and then lobbied them and locked in the votes? Apparently not. And it is not just about those who listen to
the calls for punishing the greed merchants.
Don’t forget the special interest politicians, those who worry that such
an intervention in the so called ‘free hand of the market’ is the death of
capitalism and all that has made America great. I think it was Karl Marx who said that
capitalism was all about privatizing profits and nationalizing debt.
Sure, it’s a complex message, but it didn’t have to
be so hard.