Balancing the National Chaos: Two Images of Washington

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

A short visit to the nation’s capital this week provided a first-hand perspective on the chaos taking place in Washington and across the nation as the federal government shutdown over a planned boarder wall drags on and on, without a glimmer of an impending resolution.

To illustrate this perspective, note the two images — both taken from my room at the DuPont Circle Hotel — that accompany this post.  It’s my intention that these perspectives will somewhat metaphorically provide insight into the nation today.

Metro Washington was battered by a significant winter storm that impacted travel, but also left the city — and nation — blanketed in indecision.

The top image was taken Sunday in mid-afternoon as bands of snow fell across the city and surrounding areas.  The weather created challenges for travelers arriving at Reagan National Airport, people taking the Washington metro transit system and pedestrians, as the snow and ice made it difficult to walk, much less pull a suitcase across sidewalks that had yet to be shoveled.

In town to attend a transportation conference, I learned firsthand of travel nightmares, closed museums and attractions, and lives of federal workers and many others disrupted. An Italian restaurant near my hotel, where I had planned to enjoy a light dinner and glass of wine, had closed early. Other restaurants in the normally bustling neighborhood were open but not crowded. There was a sense that evening that Washington was hunkering down, that it almost was under siege due to the forces of nature and a government that did not fulfill its obligation to its citizens.

But on Monday morning, the bands of snow moved east, resulting in clear skies. Crews had been dispatched to clear away snow and ice, making basic mobility much easier and less dangerous than 12 or so hours before.  The WMATA Red Line train I took to the Convention Center was crowded, efficiently transporting people to jobs, appointments and events.  Later that evening, crowds descended on the Capital One Arena to take in a hockey game.  As noted in the second image here, the city had shrugged off obstacles and stood resilient. Things appeared to be “back to normal.”

As the shutdown enters its 27th day, the question remains: How many times can Washington figuratively brush off winter snow and clear sidewalks while some 800,000 workers wait for resolution and a paycheck?

Brilliant blue skies over the mid-rise office buildings across DuPont Circle made for a more inviting and optimistic perspective on Monday morning.

Other recollections on my 48 hour sojourn:

  • My Tuesday morning trip on the Yellow Line back to Reagan Airport offered a glimpse of the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial as the train crossed the Potomac River. My thoughts turned to the nation these Founding Fathers built, and whether the ideals they formulated were crumbling.
  • From the American Airlines concourse, I counted around a dozen construction cranes in the distance, testimony that new developments, business and commerce will continue while the government stalemate dragged on.
  • The lines to get a cup of coffee at the Starbucks near the TSA checkpoint were longer than the lines required to pass through security. Was this an anomaly? A result of fewer travelers due to the shutdown?  Luck?

And, finally an aside of sorts. While at a reception Monday evening near the Convention Center, a colleague noted that Massachusetts Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren was present, dining with her husband, glasses of beer before them. As unobtrusively as possible, I approached their booth. The Senator smiled, turned and extended her hand.  She demonstrated a firm handshake.

“Hello Senator,” I said. “Wishing you success in the campaign ahead. We’re here for a transportation conference.”  “Transportation is very important to the nation,” she said. I wholeheartedly agreed, bid the couple farewell, and they quietly enjoyed their dinner and evening together.

A Public Relations Plan to Help The USA Return to “Normal”

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Loyal followers of The PRDude know that I believe in the power of public relations to do good.  So, I’m offering the following framework of a strategic public relations plan to our elected leaders in Washington, D.C. as an instrument to help end the current legislative stalemate better known as the “shutdown.”

The people who work here need to do their part to end the government shutdown.

The people who work here need to do their part to end the government shutdown.

I’ll follow the storied four-step process, which I addressed way back in September of 2009.  The communications industry changes rapidly in today’s technology-driven world, but the four-step public relations process should not be one of them.

What follows is, as noted above, just the framework of a plan.  (I’d be delighted to expand upon this further — for a hefty fee, of course — but I don’t believe there’s anyone in Washington still on the job who could cut a check, much less have the funds available!)

Step One: Define the threat or opportunity.  In most cases strategy would guide communications to address one or the other.  With the impasse underway in our nation’s capitol, I maintain there’s the potential to craft messages that address both: a) The threat is continued deterioration of the American economy and way of life, and a decline in the nation’s stature on the world stage. b) The opportunity is to bring to the forefront the fact that the two-party system clearly no longer works and we probably need to fix it.  (Independents, are you listening?)

Step Two: Conduct research. In a real-world situation, we’d conduct primary research and review secondary sources. But based on two online news sources, I maintain that the no one really knows when or how the shutdown will  end, and everyone is blaming the President and Congress for this fiasco.  That’s sufficient research for now.

And, the guy who lives here needs to compromise.

And, the guy who lives here needs to compromise.

Step Three: Develop a Plan and Communicate. Strategic public relations plans are based on realistic goals, sound strategies and measurable objectives.  Here’s what I recommend: Compromise and end the impasse (goal), have each side walk away with something (strategy), get people back to work tomorrow and bring business back to normal (objectives). Communicate this through a joint news conference and issue a news release.  Hey, I’ll write the release and talking points for you. For free!

Step Four: Revisit The Plan and Make Revisions.  Most strategic plans are revisited after several weeks or perhaps months.  But in this case, my proposed plan to help bring the United States back to some sense of “normalcy” should be revisited a lot sooner.  Like tomorrow.

Whether you’re in public relations or some other profession, why not share your thoughts on how the nation’s leaders can do their jobs and govern.  So we all could get back to “normal.”