Let’s say a healthcare client is seeking a briefing with a prominent newspaper editorial board. Ultimately, the client would like to see an editorial come out that reflects its views. In the best of scenarios, that’s exactly what happens.
Sometimes, though, a healthcare client goes to a briefing improperly prepared – either underprepared, overprepared or just plain poorly prepared. Luckily, Joe Rago, a senior editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal, recently shared some insights with us about how clients can fare well in such briefings. Joe, who writes all the healthcare editorials in the Journal, conducts such briefings regularly.
The timing of this advice is fortuitous. With the debate over healthcare reform flaring white-hot over the last 18 months, more than a few health care clients have asked us to set up editorial board meetings (in many cases, we’ve suggested the idea ourselves). The controversy over the Affordable Care Act will most likely continue unabated in 2011.
Here, courtesy of Joe Rago, are the top 10 tips for editorial board briefings:
1. Establish the issue in play. Define it explicitly – its implications, its potential consequences. Overregulation, perhaps?
2. Zero in on a highly specific problem. Pinpoint a particular piece of legislation, say.
3. Present a conflict. Every issue has at least two sides. Demonstrate dramatic tension.
4. Show a trend. Changes already afoot or still in the offing are automatically interesting. Document the dynamics.
5. Convey a clear-cut point of view. Forgo fence straddling, never mind the on-the-one-hand-this-on-the-other-hand-that syndrome. You’re there to take a stand.
6. Propose a solution. Expressing a grievance – about federal policies that hamper technological innovation, for example – is only half the ballgame. Lay out your answer with authority.
7. Deliver a narrative with a theme. Everyone loves a story well told. Follow a sequence that creates suspense. “We make medical devices. Some say they’re too expensive. We say they save both lives and money. Just ask Patient ‘A.’”
8. Provide facts in abundance. Bring in a big binder. Toss out copies of letters you’ve sent to Congress.
9. Go broad. Think beyond your own company, even beyond your own industry. Show you recognize how healthcare itself might be at stake.
10. Avoid being overtly self-serving. See “9.”
Follow these criteria and chances are good you’ll get to have your say – and better still, eventually see it expressed in an editorial.
My old boss, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y), would periodically remind his staff that he was one of only 100 people in the United States who could pass laws, ratify international treaties and choose Supreme Court justices. Being a United States senator, in other words, was serious business and affected the nation immediately and well into the future.
According to a recent Gallup Poll, Congress’ approval rating now stands at 13 percent, about the level of infomercial pitchmen.
Allowing such highly regarded legislators the ability to bring electronic devices to the floors of the Senate and House is not going to raise that number. When C-SPAN’s cameras alight on Sen. Jones or Rep. Smith pinging away at their Blackberries or chatting on their cell phones, will the public think they are working to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution?
The public will think they are doing chores, getting scores or ignoring the bores droning on a few steps away. They will not think the gadget-bound are doing the people’s business. (I’d complain that using the machinery on the floor would inevitably distract the members from listening and contributing to the debate going on around them — except real debates don’t occur much anymore so that’s not too big a problem.)
At a time when we should all be thinking about how to contribute to thoughtful and civil public discourse, this is not the best time for our political leaders to focus attention on devices that promote instantaneous and brief communications. Cell phones, Blackberrys and all the technological marvels we live with — and can’t live without — make our lives better and easier.
Let our senators and representatives use them to their hearts content. But make them walk outside the chambers and do their typing, texting and talking. The American people don’t need another visible reason to question congressional behavior.
Speaking of my old boss — someone who thought and wrote with the next decade, not the next day, in mind — a compilation of his letters has just been published in a book edited by former New York Times reporter Steven Weisman. “Daniel Patrick Moynihan, A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary,” is a treasure for anyone interested in the man Michael Barone called “America’s best thinker among politicians since Lincoln and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson.”
David I. Leavitt
There’s no question that the new Republican majority in the House will mean big changes in the congressional agenda.
But one change has very little to do with politics: for the first time, the rules allow members of Congress to use electronic devices such as iPhones, Blackberrys and iPads on the House floor.
Wasting no time, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) live-tweeted events from the House floor on the opening day of the session. Her dispatches included photos, such as this one celebrating the occasion of Nancy Pelosi handing the speaker’s gavel to John Boehner.
The new policy prohibits only devices that “impair decorum” — a subjective distinction, to be sure.
It’s important for our lawmakers to be fluent in ubiquitous technology that the rest of the nation uses, both to stay on top of how the world works and to take advantage of the best communication technologies available.
Change happens slowly in our government. Until President Obama asked for a special security-enabled Blackberry, our presidents didn’t use email due to advice from White House attorneys.
In my view, it was a shame that George W. Bush did not use email while he was president. He clearly understood the importance of email in everyday life and commerce. As reported by the Weekly Standard, he had regularly used email before moving into the White House, saying: "There's no better way to communicate."
If there is no better way to communicate, then we did our nation a disservice by providing a disincentive for our presidents to use the best communications technologies available. I feel the same way when it comes to electronic devices on the floor of the House.
In 2011, when someone cites a fact or figure that we doubt, we instantly look it up online to make sure it’s accurate. Why should members of Congress — who are involved in important discussions in which it’s vital to get the facts right — be at a disadvantage?
Yes, it’s possible that some members will occasionally take advantage of this rule to conduct unofficial business on the floor of the House. There may be times when someone checks the score of a baseball game instead of paying attention to the debate.
However, the absence of electronic devices does not mean there aren’t members thinking about baseball when they’re on the House floor.
And besides, the upside of the new rule is far more important. As House Republican transition office spokesman Brendan Buck told the National Journal: "Prohibiting the use of all electronic devices on the House floor is an obstacle to efficiency.”
(Photo from Flickr user Joi.)
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