ON THE BEAT
Beltway experience validates the increasing importance of strategic comms.
Ed Gillespie June 01, 2009
After leaving the White House as counselor to President George W. Bush at the end of his term this past January, many were surprised I didn't return to lobbying, but instead opened a new strategic planning and communications firm. Given the rapid changes in public affairs, they shouldn't have been.
Lobbying remains a vital means of conveying information to a target audience of policy-makers. However, other ways of shaping the broader environment in which policy decisions are made have mushroomed and gained in both importance and influence.
I've lobbied and been lobbied. I have advocated policies and participated in the policy-making process at various levels of Congress, as well as at the White House. As such, I understand what has an impact from all perspectives.
Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, my old boss, has a saying that on the floor of the House of Representatives, “Votes beat money every time.” Helping to shape the public perceptions surrounding an issue has a much greater impact than individual lobbying and endless fundraisers.
The strongest impact of smart communications and public affairs is not so much in how policies are shaped, but what policies end up being considered at all. In Washington, the urgent drives out the important. Making sure policy-makers understand why action on a certain issue is urgent – or why it's not – falls under the purview of broader public affairs.
Any lobbyist worth his or her retainer can explain why a member of Congress should vote a certain way, or why a cabinet secretary should adopt a certain position. The greater challenge is not about explaining why, but why now.
Elevating “why” to “why now” involves a broad array of tools, including grassroots organization, Internet mobilization, and more. In an era when people instinctively reach for their Blackberrys upon first waking up, it involves texting, Tweeting, and e-mailing.
In my last year in the White House, public pressure over high gas prices spurred action by both the President and the Democratic Congress to allow offshore US drilling for the first time in three decades. There was genuine outcry for more domestic energy, but there was also a coordinated public affairs effort that helped policy-makers understand not only why lifting the longtime offshore drilling ban made sense, but why now.
Throughout 25 years in politics, government, and business, I've always enjoyed strategic communications most. And it's never been more important than now.
Ed Gillespie, former counselor to President George W. Bush, recently founded Ed Gillespie Strategies. He was RNC chair from 2003-2004 and a principal at Quinn Gillespie and Associates from 2000-2007.
THE GUY IN THE BLACK SUIT
There Goes Ed
Even discounting his tall stature, it's not difficult to spot President Bush's former counselor, Ed Gillespie, on the touristy streets of Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington. He's one of the few pedestrians who dresses in a dark suit every day.
Mr. Gillespie, a one-time chairman of the Republican National Committee, recently crossed the Potomac to launch Ed Gillespie Strategies on Prince Street, having previously partnered at one of K Street's more prominent lobby shops, Quinn Gillespie & Associates, with former Clinton White House counsel Jack Quinn.
Mr. Gillespie has made it clear his lobbying days are over. He's now concentrating on strategic planning, communications and, of course, politics, including helping to run the campaign of Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell.
Ed Gillespie Strategies
The arches that formed the foundations for Ancient Rome’s buildings, bridges and aqueducts relied on a single keystone. The wedge-shaped piece at the summit of an arch is the central, cohesive source of support and stability. Without a well crafted and properly set keystone, the entire structure would crumble.
The keystone is at the center of the graphic for Ed Gillespie Strategies because a well conceived strategy is the central, cohesive element of any successful effort to achieve an important objective. If the strategy is not well conceived, the effort will likely fail.
A well conceived strategy is the centerpiece for the personnel decisions, project assignments and tactics necessary to win in the marketplace of ideas. The number of people who have the experience, vision and insight necessary to craft an overarching strategy--who can craft a keystone for success-- is limited.
Ed Gillespie is widely recognized as one of those people.
CEOs, trade association heads, and coalition members know where they want to be, and where they are now. It’s not always clear how to get from one to the other, however.
Having the right strategic plan is critical to success. Ed Gillespie has mapped winning strategies for candidates for the U.S. House, Senate and governorships, CEOs seeking shareholder approval of controversial mergers, and the President of the United States in battles with congress. He knows the right questions to ask and the right advice to give to develop an effective strategy.
Message Development and Communications Strategy
Identifying target audiences, crafting a communications calendar, plotting the right mix and timing of various tactics, knowing when to be proactive versus reactive, gauging the optimal blend of traditional, new and paid media are all important elements of an effective communications strategy.
In 25 years in politics, government and business, Ed Gillespie has emerged as one of the premier communications strategists in America. He knows what it takes to effectively convey information and image in today’s cluttered and constantly churning media environment.
A fundamental element of effective communications is smart message development. This requires a unique ability to compellingly describe ideas, analyze demographic data, weigh focus group feedback and take into account competing audiences (i.e., financial markets, consumers, regulators) and synthesize a wide array of factors into a simple message. Ed Gillespie is famous for his ability to coin a phrase, label an issue and capture public sentiment.
Reputation and Crisis Management
In today’s economic and media environments upstanding individuals, outstanding companies and important industries can suddenly find themselves at risk of reputational damage.
The ability to react quickly without panicking and to respond forcefully yet thoughtfully can mean the difference between saving a reputation and losing it.
From the collapse of the financial markets, to handling congressional investigations, to issues involving sensitive diplomatic and national security implications, Ed Gillespie has counseled numerous high-profile people and companies through a wide variety of media, legal and congressional firestorms.
Hearing and Interview Preparation
Honing opening statements, anticipating hard-to-guess questions, shaping responses and coaching demeanor are skills developed through years of experience. Ed Gillespie has advised committee chairs what questions they should ask at hearings, and advised witnesses what questions to expect and how to best answer them.
Perhaps Gillespie’s best known role in preparing a witness for congressional hearings was in 2005, when President Bush asked him to lead the confirmation efforts for Chief Justice John Roberts. “A little bit like coaching Michael Jordan on his jump shot,” Gillespie said at the time.
When it comes to high-stakes press interviews, few have prepared at the level Ed Gillespie has. Network news shows, one-on-one interviews, major magazine profiles and even microphone-in-the-face ambushes are all experiences he has guided people through.
And unlike most other consultants, Ed Gillespie brings the unique perspective of someone who has actually been in the hot seat himself, appearing on major network news programs, participating in debates and testifying before congress.
Coalition Organization and Management
When an issue arises that affects a diverse group of companies and industries, organizing them into a unified entity that can speak with one voice and work in a coordinated fashion toward a common objective takes experience and gravitas.
In two decades of public and private sector work, Ed Gillespie has successfully organized and managed coalitions focused on policies ranging from excise taxes to encryption reform to energy regulation. He has the management ability it takes to create the infrastructure, run the meetings, coordinate strong personalities, circulate information and implement agreed upon strategy and tactics.