Communications Lessons From the Government Shutdown

By Lawrence J. Parnell, Associate Professor, Strategic PR, The George Washington University

With the government shutdown now exceeding 30 days, it’s worth asking: – Are there any lessons we, as communications professionals, can learn from this ordeal?

Given the current state – no end in sight and no talks scheduled  – the simple answer is NO. Neither side has distinguished itself in either its communications strategy or public behavior.

However, maybe there are lessons we can learn? At the very least: How not to communicate during a labor dispute or a government shutdown.

A few examples:

  • Don’t let emotions – or scorekeeping – drive communications strategy or tactics
  • Don’t negotiate in the public media (or on line either)
  • Exercise restraint in your comments (limit the posturing and “gotcha” quotes)
  • Limit the use of surrogates and control their messages
  • Remember the stakeholders (e.g. employees, citizens) are more important than you
  • Ultimately no one “wins” or “loses.” Let that go. A settlement is, by definition, a compromise.

While I do not have “the solution” to end this drama – maybe we could get back to actually negotiating? That would be a good start.

The silver lining – if there is one – is learning how essential government services are in our everyday lives and gaining an appreciation for the workers who provide them to all of us.

No one wins when everyone is focused on “winning” the battle – and ok with losing the war.

Don’t forget the old adage: “Never get in a pissing contest with a skunk – you’ll both end up a smelly mess.”

Here’s hoping for a reasonable settlement – for all of our sakes – soon.

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About prsancc

The National Capital Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA-NCC) is a professional public relations organization of more than 1,400 members in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The Chapter provides professional development programs, accreditation instruction, and networking events. The Chapter also promotes public relations education through five area Public Relations Society of America Student chapters, as well as a Career Academy for inner city high school students. For more information, please visit http://www.prsa-ncc.org or call (703) 691-9212.

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