As if Iraq and Afghanistan weren’t enough, President Obama has engaged in yet another war, and this one might be felt a little closer to home. Obama’s foe? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, announced plans to spend $20 million annually for several years on a public relations campaign. The campaign aims to discredit much of the Democrats’ agenda while promoting less regulation and other free-market principles. This is the largest PR campaign in the organization’s history.
Donohue’s fervor, however, seems to have overcome reasonable judgment in his zeal to lead the charge against the Obama agenda. The Chamber has adopted extreme stances that seem to defy conventional beliefs. One of the more controversial examples is the Chamber’s official stance on global warming and environmental legislation.
Global warming ain’t all that bad…
Donohue maintains that the scientific data suggesting that global warming is the result of carbon emissions is, in fact, insufficiently researched. He has tried to undercut environmental policy initiatives and has engaged in efforts to fight tougher air-quality laws. He has also taken a positive view of global warming—if it does indeed exist– by claiming it could reduce the number of deaths related to cold weather.
The Chamber’s actions have evoked some unintended consequences. Many member firms disagree with the Chamber’s official stance on these issues and have been forced to reconsider their membership in the organization. Several notable firms have already left the group, including Nike Inc., Apple Inc., and Duke Energy Corp., claiming the Chamber’s overly partisan initiative does not resonate with their companies’ principles. Donahue vehemently maintains that he is unfazed by his critics.
“One thing I can tell you: They can go out and chase me and chase the Chamber and put stuff in the newspaper. It only . . . drives more and more support. . . . You think we are going to blink because a couple of people are out shooting at us? Tell ’em to put their damn helmets on.”
“They’ve put Main Street business in a precarious place by taking a position that’s not credible and doesn’t allow them to shape legislation to their members’ benefit,” said James Rogers, chief executive of electric utility Duke Energy Corp, claiming that the Chamber has adopted an “over the top” stance on climate issues. Duke Energy supports legislation that puts a price on carbon emissions, which is seemingly counterintuitive, considering that Duke Energy is the country’s third-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide.
Presidential perk #1: You make the rules
The Washington Post reported on Oct. 20 that the feud between Obama and the Chamber has escalated as a result of proposed health-care reforms.
“Instead of working through the Chamber, President Obama has reached out to business executives, meeting repeatedly with small groups of CEOs in his private White House dining room. He also has dispatched top aides Valerie Jarrett and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to corporate boardrooms.”
The article continues to suggest that “Obama is attempting to rewrite the rules of the game in Washington” by circumventing the Chamber when dealing with business related policies. It is the aggregation of several extreme views promulgated by the Chamber’s PR campaign that has put the organization in the precarious position of potentially becoming marginalized.
It’s not all about you, Donohue
It seems that Donohue failed to take into account the most basic tenet of public relations before launching his campaign – you have to relate to your public. Donohue did not consider the views of the companies his organization represents. A successful campaign must focus on representing the client and appealing to the values and needs of its target public.
In this case, Donohue so disregarded generally accepted ideas in a blatant effort to oppose Administration policies that he sacrificed credibility, losing the support of several Chamber members in the process. Organizations must consider the negative ramifications of their public relations efforts before engaging in a campaign. Seeing how this battle is playing out in the media, it won’t be long before Donohue reigns in the troops and raises a white flag.