Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Feds Could Use A CMO Of The United States

Why The Electorate Is Confused On What's Happening In Financial Markets

By David Miranda

Over the past few weeks, the headlines have been filled with stories on the severe financial crisis in the United States (and global markets). Regardless of one's political persuasion, all reasonable people seem to agree that the situation has been exacerbated by campaign rhetoric and partisan politics in a Presidential election year. It doesn't help that we have a radioactive President and dysfunctional Congress with understandably dismal approval ratings.

On Monday, the House of Representatives voted on legislation that would, according to the Bush Administration and bi-partisan Congressional leaders, help stabilize the financial markets. The bill failed to pass with one third of Democrats and two thirds of Republicans voting Nay.

A post mortem of those voting Nay had many Representatives saying they have received overwhelming feedback from angry constituents that they were against taxpayers "bailing out Wall Street". To paraphrase some comments from the electorate, "Why should we bail out these fat cats? We didn't cause this mess." or "It's all about Wall Street greed and reckless decisions."

There is a marketing lesson here.

From the beginning, the Adminstration's solution was framed to Main Street as a "bailout of Wall Street". This is a Main Street that has suffered from high energy prices, increased foreclosures, rising health care costs and unemployment to list a few of the maladies affecting the middle class.

They, needless to say, have justifiable anger when their tax dollars are perceived to be "bailing out" the "greedy and reckless executives" who have multi-million dollar pay and severance packages. Is there any wonder why Monday's legislation failed? It was doomed from the beginning.

If the Feds had a competent CMO, things might have been different. The CMO would have understood the need to empathize with the electorate and frame the story in a more palatable way to garner support.

"Bail out" and "Wall Street" should never be put in the same sentence. This is a volatile combination. "Bail out" is synonymous with "hand out" and "Wall Street" during these perilous times is synonymous with unmitigated greed and self-interest of executives in today's new Enrons and Worldcoms, i.e. the Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Wachovia, Washington Mutual etc.

A smart CMO would have suggested that the message to the average American be communicated as a stabilization of the credit markets that allows people to get a mortgage, buy a car, send kids to college or small businesses to have access to credit to buy inventory, make payroll, etc. In other words, the story is less about Wall Street and more about Main Street. The Feds did not and have not made the case for the average American - the person who is the real victim (and should be the real beneficiary) of any legislation.

The Adminstration tried to sell this to Congress. They should have put their efforts in getting the Electorate on board first. It's what great leaders do in a crisis - FDR was a great CMO. During dark times for the country, he created his famous Fireside Chats with the American public. They instilled confidence and hope that inspired a nation.

A smart Fed CMO would have known that. Perhaps Senators McCain or Obama should create the first cabinet post of CMO of the United States.