December 8, 2011

As many of you know, I am completing my first year as global chairman and CEO and am looking forward to sharing with you all, as friends and colleagues, our latest news. This has been an exciting time for the firm, as just last week we launched our new name and brand—Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

Changing the name of the firm was not a decision made quickly or lightly. It came after much thought and consideration about the direction in which this firm is headed, and more importantly — about how to best serve our clients in a changing world.

Throughout my travels this past year to our various offices, I have enjoyed interacting with our teams from China to Latin American and Dubai, and I plan on visiting even more this coming year. It has been encouraging to see evidence of our growth and success with significant client wins and office expansion. Currently, H+K Strategies has 86 offices in 46 countries, which fosters the ability to tackle global issues with a local perspective.

We have had the great fortune of seeing success both internally and externally, with the value of our largest 50 clients having grown 20 percent over budget. Additionally, the numerous awards H+K Strategies received throughout the year help to demonstrate our high level of talent and commitment to providing the best quality strategic advice and execution.

Our clients increasingly acknowledge that there is an element to their business that must continually interact with the public. Our goal at Hill+Knowlton Strategies is to make sure that we can provide wisdom to those clients so that they understand the public and the public understands our clients. Launching the new H+K Strategies is part of that goal.

In conjunction with the brand launch, we broadened our array of services to include more defined digital and research offerings as well as a business advisory group to be rolled out at the beginning of the year. With all these services at hand, we are prepared to start the upcoming year in an exciting direction.

As I’ve said here many times before, creating a thoughtful conversation with the public, which is now connected 24/7, is vital to any organization’s reputation and success. No longer is the public a behind-the-scenes critic — rather, today it is an integral part of every business’ bottom line.  Living in a time where social trends are changing and developing at such an amazing pace, we have made it our priority to recognize those changes and respond to the public accordingly.

I believe that we owe it to our clients to approach their interactions with the public with enthusiasm and passion — and demonstrate that outcomes truly matter to us.

This past month, The Holmes Report issued its 2011 Global PR Agency Report Card. The write-up on our firm recognized H+K Strategies’ new direction, acknowledging our investments in our talent, our global practices and our regions. The piece paints an optimistic future for H+K, and I have no doubt that our future is bright.

Here are some of the most recent awards we have won this year:

PRWeek Awards
Hill+Knowlton Strategies (October 2011)

  • Highly Commended: Marketing Communication Consumer (annual fees more than £100k)
  • Finalist: Technology

Public Relations Society of Kenya Awards for Excellence

Hill+Knowlton Strategies- Kenya (November 2011)

  • Best Public Sector Campaign- Work with the Truth Justice & Reconciliation Commission
  • Best Use of Technology Campaign- Nokia Apps Store
  • Best Event of the Year- Airtel launch in 16 countries
  • Best Public Affairs Campaign- Anti-counterfeit campaign with Nokia

PRSA LA PRism Awards

Hill+Knowlton Strategies- LA/Irvine (November 2011)

Winners

  • One-Time Media or Special Events – Corporate/Brand: $100,000 or More Budget
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment Shatters Guinness World Record with Back-to-Back Jack Bauer in “24″ DVD Launch Event
  • Entertainment Programs – One-Time or Special Event
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment Shatters Guinness World Record with Back-to-Back Jack Bauer in “24″ DVD Launch Event
  • Entertainment Programs – Personality, Series, Music, Film or DVD
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment Shatters Guinness World Record with Back-to-Back Jack Bauer in “24″ DVD Launch Event
  • Special Purpose/Creative Materials – Logo/Identity Design
Curbside Value Partnership: Helping Hispanics Recycle: Why the Curb Matters

Award of Excellence Winners

  • Consumer – $100,000 or More Launch Budget
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment Shatters Guinness World Record with Back-to-Back Jack Bauer in “24″ DVD Launch Event
  • Public Education-
Curbside Value Partnership: Helping Hispanics Recycle: Why the Curb Matters
  • Multicultural Communications Program – Association/Gov’t/Non-Profit Organization
Curbside Value Partnership: Helping Hispanics Recycle: Why the Curb Matters
  • Special Purpose/Creative Materials – Teaser or Other Collateral
Curbside Value Partnership: Helping Hispanics Recycle: Why the Curb Matters

Asian Pacific SABRE Awards

Hill+Knowlton Strategies-China (November 2011)

  • Food and Beverage: Trophy- California Almonds Integrated Marketing 2010-2011 
Almond Board of California

Hill+Knowlton Strategies- Thailand

  • South-East Asia: Trophy- Ford Fiesta Launch in Thailand
Ford Motor Company Asia Pacific and Africa with WPP X Team

Gullkorn: Norwegian PR Industry Awards

Hill+Knowlton Strategies Gambit- Oslo (November 2011)

  • “Enterprise Profile of the Year”- The “Youth Bank #1” campaign for major Norwegian bank DNB
  • “Enterprise Profile of the Year” Nomination- “Teach First Norway” project in collaboration with Statoil

Lars Erik- president of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, North East Central Europe

  • Honorary Award- Recognition for dedication to PR business and the Norwegian trade organization NIR

2011 GEMAS Effie Mena Awards

Hill+Knowlton Strategies- Dubai (November 2011)

  • Finalist on shortlist- Recognized for work with Proctor&Gamble on global launch of new Ariel

European EMMAS

Hill+Knowlton Strategies- London (November 2011)

  • Winner of ‘Most Innovative Use of Tech in Global Mobility (Knowledge)’- Expat Explorer Survey for HSBC International Bank Ltd.
  • Highly Commended in ‘Thought Leadership – Best Survey or Research study of the Year’- Expat Explorer Survey for HSBC International Bank Ltd.
  • In addition, the technology team was selected as a finalist in the technology

PRCA Awards

Hill+Knowlton Strategies- London (November 2011)

  • Finalist in Technology Category- Work on Intel Remastered

2011 Middle East Public Relation Association

Hill+Knowlton Strategies (November 2011)

  • Best Practice Award: Government Communications- “From Friday Prayers to the Farm”
  • Best Practice Award: Use of Social/Digital Media- “A Better Tomorrow for Egypt”

EIKON Awards

Hill+Knowlton Strategies- Colombia (November 2011)

  • Regional Golden EIKON Award: Events Catergory- Team leading Fruco, Unilever’s dressing brand

Professional Council of Public Relations of Argentina

Hill+Knowlton Strategies- Argentina (November 2011)

  • Nomination for Best Young Professional of the Year -Marcelo Benavides, account director in H+K Strategies in Argentina

2011 Ethnic Business Awards

Hill+Knowlton Strategies- Australia (November 2011)

  • Sponsor of 2011 Ethnic Business Awards presented in November in Sydney.

European Excellence Awards 
(December 2011)

Hill+Knowlton Strategies- Germany

  • Finalist on shortlist- Project for Nord Stream: Evaluation Essential for Building Europe’s Most Complex Infrastructure Project, in the Evaluation category.

Hill+Knowlton Strategies-Poland

  • Finalist on Shortlist- project for AstraZeneca Pharma Poland: Educational program about mental illness ‘The Way To Myself’ (Droga Do Siebe), in the Poland, Russia, Ukraine category.
  • Finalist on Shortlist- Work with Polska Unia Onkologii (Polish Union of Oncology),GSK Commercial—campaign: National Program for Teenagers titled “I’ve got the answer for cancer” (Mam Haka Na Raka), in the Health category.

Hill+Knowlton Strategies- London

  • Finalist on shortlisted- Work with Visa Europe on the Visa Europe London 2012 Expenditure and Economic Impact Report, in the Travel & Tourism category.

 Best holiday wishes to all of you and Happy New Year.

Jack

Jack Martin
JMartinTexas@gmail.com
98 San Jacinto Blvd., Suite 1200
Austin, Texas 78701
512-432-1750

Twitter

November 17, 2011

I’ve written here often about the surge in technology and social media that has created a world where information is not only readily accessible, but where the public is able to make its own judgments using the information source of its choosing. But while this ease of access has enormous benefits, it comes at a price. With the public watching 24/7, nothing can be done in a vacuum. We see this becoming increasingly relevant in the world of politics, which we recently witnessed in the case of the euro debt crisis.

The euro zone’s troubles have been well documented in the last few weeks, beginning at the European Union summit in early November — an event that produced what was believed to be a prime bailout plan that would avert a crisis. But after numerous twists and turns, the situation in Europe remains tumultuous. So far, many political and economic forces have affected the direction of the crisis’ resolution, but a critical factor has been each country’s leadership.

For instance, Germany, the financial powerhouse of the EU, came into the euro debt crisis with a leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had less than favorable public approval ratings.  On the eve of the EU summit, a German Infratest poll revealed that only 20 percent of Germans were satisfied with their government’s handling of the crisis. Despite this lack of faith in her government, Merkel then did something that seems rare in today’s environment. She took a leadership role in not only advancing her decisions but also in selling them to her constituents to make the necessary resolutions for the euro zone. From a strategic perspective what she did was risky, but it appears that the German public has fallen in line with her actions. According to an FG Wahlen poll taken over the weekend, Merkel’s handling of the debt crisis is now backed by 56 percent of Germans, up from 45 percent in early October.

However, other European leadership has not been quite as successful in handling the crisis — the two main examples being Greece and Italy. In Greece, former Prime Minister George Papandreou’s every political move was constantly scrutinized by the Greek public as well as the global media. Greece’s difficulty in managing its national affairs appears to be due in part to its leadership. Papandreou highlighted his inconsistency in handling the bailout process when he proposed a national referendum on the bailout and a mere four days later retracted his decision. Unlike Merkel, it appears Papandreou was unable to convince his public and government of his ability to steer Greece in the right direction in its time of crisis, ultimately resigning for his actions.

On an equal but different note, Italy’s leadership has suffered a similar fate. It has been reported that Berlusconi’s numerous economic faults have left the public unhappy and the economy staggering. Those reports show that he failed to invest in schools, universities, innovation or research, and instead spent 20 years building up a national debt of $2.6 trillion. For nearly all of the past decade, the Italian economy has not grown faster than 1 percent annually, which could have been attributed, at least in part, to Berlusconi’s lack of interest in public concern. And this week, Berlusconi was forced to leave office due to intense national and international pressure. Advocating a new direction for Italy, U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested the country name a strong, credible figure to lead Italy out of its economic downturn. Germany’s Chancellor Merkel even showed concern over the fate of Italy at a party conference in Leipzig, where she said, “I hope that confidence in Italy is restored, which is crucial for a return to calm throughout the euro zone.”

Though there are many financial lessons to be learned from the euro debt crisis, there is an additional key takeaway in terms of public sentiment. The media has focused on European leadership and its integral part in this crisis, causing extreme uncertainty on the part of the European public. Dissatisfied, the public is now looking to stronger leadership and change to manage their economic future. Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen events unfold at a rapid pace, which in decades past may have taken months to come to fruition. The democratization of information has allowed the European public to demand answers and see concrete results on a faster basis. This, combined with a decline in the power of traditional institutions as intermediaries, has created a forum for the public to voice its opinion, be heard — and most of all, instill change.

Jack

Jack Martin
JMartinTexas@gmail.com
98 San Jacinto Blvd., Suite 1200
Austin, Texas 78701
512-432-1750

Twitter

October 21, 2011

Earlier this week, I shared with you my thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street movement and its effects on the current economic and financial climate around the world. I would like to take a step further now and discuss how this rapidly growing movement will impact the upcoming United States presidential election. By looking at this, it may forecast what we could begin to see around the world. Where although the Wall Street protesters are making headway, there may be another consideration found in people’s unrest with the government.

President Obama has been criticized by his base for being too soft on Wall Street. Add to that the failure of the administration to achieve overwhelming public support for initiatives such as healthcare reform, environmental regulations and deficit reduction. These two ingredients have contributed to Obama’s steadily declining approval ratings.  Now, with Occupy Wall Street gaining momentum, the President and the Democrats have, by default, stumbled into a ground swell of support for their policies. Trying to capitalize on this new wealth of support, it would not surprise me to see the Obama campaign echo some of the anti Wall Street sentiments.

In fact, at a recent speech at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Dedication, President Obama shared his thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“If [Martin Luther King, Jr.] were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there; that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company’s union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain.”

So it appears to me that Obama is foreshadowing his stance on what could become a key election issue.

Interestingly enough, it may not be that simple. At this point, pursuing the Occupy Wall Street agenda may not be the only strategy. If you take a look at a recent Gallup poll, we see that Democrats have become more evenly divided on whom to blame for the financial crisis. According to the poll, 46 percent of Democrats blame Wall Street, while 49 percent see the U.S. government as being responsible. Additionally, 28 percent of Independents blame Wall Street, while 65 percent hold the U.S. government accountable. The combination of these two demographic groups and their unrest with the government gives an indication as to why you might see some resistance in politicians around the globe relying solely on a strategy of blaming the financial industry or some equivalent of “Wall Street”

To my point, we are now seeing the President criticizing Congress, coming very close to calling them “do-nothings.” In an October 6th White House press conference he stated,

“If Congress does something, then I can’t run against a do-nothing Congress. If Congress does nothing, then it’s not a matter of me running against them; I think the American people will run them out of town, because they are frustrated, and they know we need to do something big and something bold.”

These criticisms may be in hopes of garnering support from those Democrats and Independents who are, in fact, frustrated with the government.

So then, how does President Obama run against the Republican candidate?  Let’s assume for a second that the nominee is Mitt Romney, which is not a forgone conclusion. Looking more closely at Romney, a very successful businessperson who comes from the much-respected Bain Capital, it is not difficult to suggest that this association be rolled into a description of “Wall Street” in the rhetoric coming out of the Obama campaign.

Once this begins, you could conceivably see in the 2012 election that the Obama team essentially tries to make the election a referendum on Wall Street and the Republican Congress’ intractability on economic issues by attaching Romney to both groups. I would be willing to bet that in the research being conducted now on how to make the best contrast between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, someone is going to come running in to the room with a poll that shows a link between Romney and the perceived “excesses” of the past, with the pitch that, if advocated, would generate support for Obama. Add to that Congress’ current 13 percent approval rating and Romney will likely want to have his campaign headquarters on the North Pole to stay as far away as he can from Washington and his supporters in Congress.

Although rallying against Wall Street may be gaining momentum, things are not that simple. We should watch to see how President Obama incorporates the public’s frustration with Congress into this strategy. In this day and age, when democratization and disintermediation have become increasingly relevant, it is important to gauge the public’s changing perspective in order to stay in the game.

Jack

Jack Martin
JMartinTexas@gmail.com
98 San Jacinto Blvd., Suite 1200
Austin, Texas 78701
512-432-1750

Twitter

October 19, 2011

Now in 85 countries and on five continents, we have seen “Occupy Wall Street” emerge from the grassroots level and grow into what can be considered a global “movement.” This raises a number of questions that I’d like to consider with you here. First, what is Occupy Wall Street and, more importantly, what is it not? Second, what are its prospects as a movement? And finally, what is its potential impact on policy in Washington and around the globe?

Does this type of protest sound familiar? It should. The “Tea Party Movement, ” which had its origins in conversations across the country in response to “Obamacare” in early 2009, had a direct impact on the U.S. Congressional elections of 2010, giving Republicans control of the U.S. House. We’re still feeling the effects of that change, most recently with the drawn out and bitter fight over raising the debt ceiling and among Republican presidential contenders vying for favor with the Tea Party.

On a global scale, the Arab Spring comes to mind, with some saying it may have planted the seed of inspiration for these protests. Tens of thousands of frustrated Egyptians flocked to Tahrir Square to express their grievances and organized a campaign that overthrew their government. Though that case may be more extreme than the Occupy Wall Street protest, instances like these make people believe that they can make a difference.

These movements have their roots in two trends you’ve been hearing me talk a lot about lately, the first being the democratization of everything. Oddly enough, the democratization of everything applies to politics as well, where we’ve seen a decline in the power of political parties since the Buckley v. Valeo Supreme Court ruling in 1976. Both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements are signs of increasing democratization of even political movements.

Coincidently, the second relevant trend I’ve been talking about – disintermediation – applies as well, with people increasingly rejecting major institutions. America’s lack of trust in institutions is crossing over into the political realm. Instead of turning to various media outlets, the government, or political parties, people are beginning to seek out information for themselves.

At our core, we are a center-right nation. We have a fundamental cultural belief in the free enterprise system. Although Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party are on opposite sides of this divide, they are utilizing the same “take to the streets” tactics.

There’s a Venn Diagram, created by blogger James Sinclair, making its way around Facebook which highlights a belief about the intersection of big government and big business. This may indeed be a unifying theme. However I believe we should be careful before jumping to the conclusion that these two movements will be aligned in a major way going forward.

Through its “organization,” Occupy Wall Street could have a real impact on public policy in Washington.

To date, the U.S. Congress has been at somewhat of a stalemate on issues affecting Wall Street. House Republicans are reluctant to engage in the dialogue about taxes on the “super rich”, etc., citing concerns about jobs and the economy in the broadest sense. These lawmakers are resisting the notions put forth by President Obama in the American Jobs Act as it relates to raising revenue.

On the other hand, Democrats and the President have been trying to gain a foothold and save what they can from their recently proposed jobs act, which has been inexplicably rejected by the Democratic-led Senate. Interestingly, in spite of this rejection, the public appears to be in agreement with the basic tenants of the act. According to the latest Gallup poll, 57 percent of Americans want their members of Congress to vote for the jobs bill created by President Obama.

So, will the “Wall Street Rallies” give life to what is otherwise a stranded proposal? If it does, it will be almost by coincidence. Don’t underestimate the threat of a “haves” and “have-nots” society and the trends of democratization and disintermediation.

We should watch closely and see if the situation escalates to include broader proposals that affect Wall Street and the financial industry around the world, i.e., taxes, further restrictions on pay, a discussion of revisiting Glass-Steagall, which would re-impose the separation of commercial and investment banking, and other such measures.

As we are starting to see, Occupy Wall Street is spreading globally. This past weekend protests took place in Rome, Berlin, London, Sydney, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. Although the protests represent a variety of messages, they were united in their frustration with the widening gap between the rich and the poor, and with the financial industry. It will be important to observe what comes of these demonstrations and what impact they will have on the global financial system.

In the end, however, the high unemployment rate of 9 percent that many Occupy Wall Street protesters blame on Wall Street may be the reason that the movement has yet to make an impact on public policy in Washington, where politicians are afraid to hamper economic growth with any policy that might further roil the financial markets.

Jack

Jack Martin
JMartinTexas@gmail.com
98 San Jacinto Blvd., Suite 1200
Austin, Texas 78701
512-432-1750

Twitter

October 5, 2011

Leadership (noun \lē-dər-ship\) is not a new word, yet I wonder if Washington, and the European Union for that matter, is suffering from people’s belief that we are in dire need of someone, anyone, to begin exercising its meaning – the capacity to lead. Maybe the reasons they feel it doesn’t exist is because they feel present leaders are not leading, or that people have simply stopped listening.

The recent wild swings of the stock market may signal something a lot more serious than a lack of confidence in Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s newest effort to stimulate the economy by driving down long-term interest rates and worries about containing the European debt crisis: they may point to a perceived lack of leadership everywhere, as Americans cope with a 9 percent employment rate and no apparent prospects for improvement.  Clearly, the rhetoric and quick fixes are not working. We are losing faith in our current leaders and have stopped listening, not because of what they are saying, but because of the notion they are not leading.  This at a desperate time when people so desperately need someone to do so.

The Dow dropped 2.5% shortly after the Fed statement that “there are significant downside risks to the economic outlook.”  Both stocks and commodities tumbled, Treasury yields dropped to a record low and, over concern that central banks have run out of tools to prevent another recession, the Dollar Index climbed to a seven-month high.

The steady stream of negativity regarding the European fiscal policy, and lack thereof, has helped drain confidence in the institutions whose task it is to lead the developed world out of recession.

By now, everyone knows that President Obama’s job approval rating, which is in the low 40’s and has been since June, are dangerously poor for someone who faces reelection next year. He is not able to impose his will on a Congress where the GOP minority in the Senate can thwart many of his proposals and where a GOP majority in the House just says “no.” His initial big jobs program speech on was cheered by partisan Democrats weary of his efforts to negotiate with the GOP, but practically everyone agreed from the start that much of it will never be adopted. Presently, the Washington Post-ABC News poll shows the President is leading congressional Republicans 49 to 34 percent when it comes to the public’s trust when it comes to creating new jobs. Although it is an improvement from September’s numbers when it was a 40 percent split, is it enough to get him reelected?

Recently, House Republican Majority Leader John Boehner — who struggled to hold together the GOP caucus during the debt ceiling fight — saw his caucus break ranks openly when the House voted down, 230-195, what was supposed to be a fairly routine spending bill. Democrats voted against it because they thought it didn’t have enough money for disaster relief victims, but a significant number of the most conservative Republicans also voted against it because it didn’t cut government spending enough. Boehner later got the bill through the House, but this back-and-forth suggests that more bitter, drawn-out fights over spending and taxes will erupt again this fall. It’s as if both parties in Congress see more gain from continued fighting than compromise, which is interesting in light of the latest Washington Post-ABC News polling that shows 42 percent of Americans are fed up with Congress’ shenanigans.

So what does the American public, weary of economic gloom and fearful that they will not come out of this recession anytime soon, see when it looks to Washington? Do they see a president who spent too much time trying to win support in Washington for his programs, rather than first securing the support of the American public? A House with a Republican majority that can stop legislation it doesn’t like, but can’t pass much of anything it really wants — when it can actually agree on what its own members want?

The public sees a Federal Reserve doing financial things it doesn’t understand, but deepens their pessimism because what they have been hearing lately from the Fed confirms the economy will get worse before it gets better. This gloomy outlook is a shared by executives participating in the 2011 McKinsey Global Survey, which reveals many believe their home economies,  as well as the global economy, will show no signs of improvement for at least the next six months. Europe appears divided over how much help to provide countries, especially Greece, which are struggling with heavy debt burdens.

It’s a remarkable moment in history. A political stalemate and a perceived lack of decisive leadership in the world’s largest economy is making a bad situation worse, not just for Americans, but the global economy as well. This stagnant moment is a perfect opportunity for a new bold and different type of leadership. The type of bold leadership shown by Warren Buffet’s business insight, Bill Gates ground breaking philanthropy, and Steve Jobs’ revolutionary approach to receiving information.

Given the present mindset on leadership, it is not surprising that the people who are in the public’s eye the most seem to have the lowest approval rating. In the 2011 Gallup Poll on Confidence in Institutions, Members of Congress and big business approval ratings are under 20%.  Media pundits are barely better with an approval rating under 30%. So who does the world trust? The military leads in trust with a 78% approval rating, followed by small business (64%), the police (56%) and organized religion (48%).

From the information I’ve gathered the description of the bold leader the world is waiting on would look a little like an Army general, who is also a minister, whose spouse is a part-time school teacher and small business owner and who used to be a policeman … any ideas?

Jack

Jack Martin
JMartinTexas@gmail.com
98 San Jacinto Blvd., Suite 1200
Austin, Texas 78701
512-432-1750

Twitter

August 1, 2011

Friends & Colleagues,

For years, I have been fascinated by the relationship between the public and legislative bodies, both the U.S. Congress and those at the state level. What has particularly amazed me is how often very intelligent people feel compelled to ask elected officials for permission to advance their agenda as opposed to first making their case to their own constituents — who not coincidentally make up all or part of the constituency of the very elected officials whose permission is sought. In effect, they bypass the public and instead rely on intermediaries.

These past few weeks, culminating with the dramatic events of this weekend, we have seen the President essentially begging House Republicans to do the right thing, from his perspective, and based on what polls tell us, what most Americans also think is the right thing to do.

Similarly, it always amazed me during last year’s health care debate that a President with a then-60 percent approval rating decided to leave it to a Congress with a 28 percent approval rating to sell the plan to the public — the same plan now labeled “Obamacare.”

That approach is actually the origin of what we are seeing now, as the tidal wave that hit House Democrats in 2010 was a direct result of the failure to sell the initiatives of the Democrats during Obama’s first two years in the Oval Office.

Recently, you read my thoughts about disintermediation and my feeling that we are seeing the democratization of everything.

What fascinates me about President Obama’s approach is that he spent weeks negotiating with elected officials on Capitol Hill asking, basically, for permission from the House Republicans to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and taking heat from members of his own party, even as every “okay, NOW this’ll fix ’em” proposal the White House came up with failed.

The American public is increasingly confused and I say: no wonder. As democratization and disintermediation continue, who’s really surprised that no economist, no Treasury Secretary, no Warren Buffet — can sell an economic message in these times? The President has to do it.

As for the intractability of the House Republicans and their newly arrived tea party caucus, my first temptation, like many, is to ask, “Who are these people?”

But that’s too easy, and in all but a few cases, not fair. The House Republicans, and especially the most conservative members serving their first terms, believe they were given this mandate directly from the voters in the last election, and that no intermediary — not the Speaker, not the inside-the-beltway talking heads, and not a busload of economists — will change their minds.

As I write this, we appear to have reached a compromise in the debt extension crisis — a compromise the public has both wanted and expected to happen in advance of Tuesday’s deadline. But I also think that after weeks of dueling press conferences, talk show spin, and numerous attempts to cajole, scare, and almost plead, none of it has worked for the President and his allies as far as the substance of their original proposals.

Going back to my initial point about my surprise at those who approach the legislative process by asking permission, I wonder if we have not just seen that unfold in Washington.

I am an unapologetic Obama supporter. I also have respect for the House Republicans’ right to an opinion. I admire on one level their guts and strength of conviction and believe they think they are right. I also believe they think they are the only ones in the debate who have a true and recent mandate from the public. I don’t agree with that, but I’m afraid our team has done a poor job of making our case in any direct way to the public outside the beltway.

If you believe my theory of disintermediation, then you cannot sell the public on a strategy of talking heads on interview shows or editorials in the New York Times. And I absolutely feel you cannot forge a compromise by calling your adversaries “fanatics” and “extremists.”

So I ask, how does a President who soared to heights few have in history, who captured his party’s nomination by going over the heads of the political ruling class, who built his ascent on a foundation of being a great communicator, move forward?

The President took this debate to the American public — not as aggressively or as early as I would have hoped, but he did nonetheless. I had hoped that he would crisscross the country. Throw away the maps for the 2012 election. Tell the story of how we really got here and the way forward. The only thing that I thought would really forge a compromise was for both the House Republicans and the Democrats to see evidence that the President has a mandate with the real public that transcends the 2010 congressional election.

The only effective way to recover from damage done to the political standing of all involved, especially the President, will be to take his case aggressively to American people. It’s time to get his staff off of television, tell the economists to go back to their day jobs, and for the President to speak directly to the public from sea to shining sea — utilizing disintermediation as a strategy, not unlike what he did in the 2008 election.

As the most recent polling data show, the President started with an advantage over the House Republicans.

In the recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, just 38% of voters approve of the job President Obama is doing in handling the federal budget deficit — but as low as that might sound, that’s an 11-point advantage over the Republicans in Congress, who attract only a 27% approval rating. An even more recent Gallup Poll last week found that President Obama had a 41% approval rating compared to Speaker Boehner’s 31% and Harry Reid’s 23%.

President Obama can take even more encouragement from the associations that voters made in the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, which are better than even his advantage over the Republican Congress on handling the federal budget deficit.

Voters think President Obama is doing more than Republicans in Congress to protect the economic interests of “you and your family” by 47% to 37%. Voters also see President Obama doing more to protect the interests of (publicly revered) small businesses (48%-39%) and of middle class-Americans (53%-35%). A recent Pew poll also found a 51% majority of people think the Democrat Party is “more concerned with the needs of people like me,” compared to 30% who think that of the Republican party.

Meanwhile, voters give a decisive edge to Republicans — although one that might slice more against than for in the current context — when it comes to protecting the economic interests of Wall Street financial institutions (59%-26%) and large business corporations (67%-24%).

Concerns about the federal budget deficit appear also to be damaging consumer attitudes about the economy — at a time when the economy can least afford it. According to Gallup’s ongoing polling (July 22-24, 2011), 51% think the economy is “poor” and 73% think the economy is getting worse. That’s an increase of 11 points since early July. It’s no surprise then that the public itself was almost willing there to be a compromise with 68% in a recent Pew poll saying lawmakers should be willing to compromise and 56% believing that Congress would reach a deal before the August 2 deadline.

All the more reason for the President to start taking his case to the country and spend less time trying to bargain with Republicans who are waving what they see as their mandate.

A lively debate at this point would still be healthy for the country. But it will only work if the public thinks it is hearing a message directly, in its own towns, states, and neighborhoods. It’s called democratization.

Jack

Jack Martin
JMartinTexas@gmail.com
98 San Jacinto Blvd., Suite 1200
Austin, Texas 78701
512-432-1750

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