Communication Plans and Politics: Unveiling the Acts of Deception

Goodness gracious me! What a rich and bountiful season it is to discuss communications and marketing! Politics always brings out so many surprises when you apply communication theory and strategy to what’s being said and done. Things are seldom what they seem!

Before we can jump in, let’s review the basic components in communication planning:

Goal: statement of desired end state

  • Example: Sell 30% more chickens

Objectives: Sub goals, which, if achieved, will drive attainment of broad goal. Objectives are quantifiable, happen within specific time frames, with specific target audiences.

  • Example: 75% of voters will choose chicken enchiladas over beef enchiladas by August 2017.

Strategy: High level philosophy for attaining objectives among stakeholder audiences. Each objective may have several strategies supporting it.

  • Example: Educate voters on the healthy benefits of eating chicken enchiladas
  • Example: Isolate beef enchilada eaters

Tactics: Activities you will do in support of specific strategies. Examples below:

  • Create brochures comparing cholesterol content of chicken verses beef and distribute to mailing lists.
  • Write blogs on the amount of methane raising cows produces verses chickens
  • Pitch stories to reporters about the hormones and antibiotics ingested with beef enchiladas.
  • Hold a chicken enchilada eating contest and recipe exchange
  • On billboards, post pictures of beef enchiladas swimming in grease, with text recommending chicken enchiladas.

For today’s fun political exercise, let’s start with things we see and hear, for those are the tactics deployed in the communication plan. Working from there, we can deconstruct a campaign under way to see what surprises it holds.

The Bathroom Bill

The Lieutenant Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, is currently pushing a bill to require transgender people to use the bathroom assigned to their gender at birth. The stated reason he gives is that transgender people – or people posing as transgender – create a sexual predator risk if they were allowed to use the restroom for the gender with which they now identify. Setting aside – for now – the logic applied to reach that conclusion, let’s list this as a tactic.

Tactic: Claim transgender people – or people posing as transgender – are (or could be) sexual predators and therefore MUST use the bathroom of their birth sex.

Next, we define the strategy. This is pretty straightforward. Conflating transgender people with potential sexual predators is clearly an attempt to motivate voters through fear that they will be sexually assaulted in a public bathroom. While there is no evidence to support this claim, it relies upon the ignorance and biases of certain segments of the voter base to be successful.

Strategy: Motivate voters through fear.

Now we get to defining the objectives, which is still straightforward. We have the audience – generally defined as Texas voters who may be motivated or manipulated to limit transgender people’s rights to use their bathrooms of choice, including state legislators and the Governor. We have a time frame (this legislative session). And we have a quantifiable metric – generate enough support from the electorate to garner the votes to pass the bill in both house and senate and convince the Governor to sign.

Objective: Secure enough anti-LGBT voter sentiment to ensure Bathroom bill is passed in the Texas house and senate and signed into law by the governor in the 2017 session.

We must now ask ourselves what is the overarching goal – and this is where the going gets a little murky. With commercial marketing, communication goals are tied to the goal of the enterprise – sell more chicken. What is Patrick’s goal in this case?

According the Patrick, the goal is to make public bathrooms safer. In order to verify that a problem exists, we would need to see:

  • Statistics on the number of sexual assaults committed by transgender people occurring in public bathrooms assigned to the sex with which they identify. In other words, how many sexual assaults were committed by women identifying as men, upon men, in public men’s rooms? And how many men, identifying as women, committed sexual assaults on women in women’s rooms?
  • Statistics on the number of people who posed as transgender to gain access to bathrooms of the opposite sex in and then sexually assaulted someone. In other words, a heterosexual male predator who pretends to be a male identifying as a woman, to enter a women’s room and then sexually assaults a woman.

No one has produced these statistics. There is nothing, therefore, to support the statement that a problem exists. Patrick’s stated goal is therefore suspect. Bathrooms are not made unsafe by transgender people using the room assigned to the gender with which they identify. We should look for a more logical goal that aligns with the tactics, strategies and objectives we have identified. You can guess as well as I can.

  • Goal: Secure anti-LGBT Conservative voter support to retain power of office?
  • Goal: Legalize and legitimize discrimination against LBGT populations in order to permit others to freely persecute them according to their religious beliefs?
  • Goal: ?
    • Objective: Secure enough anti-LGBT voter sentiment to ensure Bathroom bill is passed in the Texas house and senate and signed into law by the governor in the 2017 session.
      • Strategy: Motivate voters through fear
        • Tactic: Claim transgender people – or people posing as transgender – are (or could be) sexual predators and therefore MUST use the bathroom of their birth sex.

I leave you with one word of caution – now that you have the tools to deconstruct the communication strategy behind what you hear, you are going to be tempted to apply it in all situations. I encourage you to do that, but just remember – with politicians especially – some clearly have no plan and will say whatever pops into their heads.  Not naming names, of course.

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