Strategic Communications: Cover Every Charge with Rapid Response

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By Owen Eagan, The Saint Consulting Group

Rapid response emerged as a political strategy in 1992 with the establishment of the War Room on the Clinton presidential campaign.  The purpose of the War Room was to let no charge go unanswered and its operation was captured in the Academy Award-nominated documentary of the same name.

This model was the result of a key lesson from the 1988 Dukakis presidential campaign, which was roundly criticized for not quickly responding to charges from the Bush campaign.  According to several advisors close to Dukakis, the candidate didn’t see the need to respond because he thought that the charges wouldn’t resonate with the public.  However, left unanswered, the attacks of Lee Atwater and his team would prove to be very effective.

The intent of rapid response was to respond to any story within the same news cycle.  Due to CNN and other television news, responses needed to be immediate because the cycle began with these outlets.  However, in 1992, there was very little media on-line so most news was consumed offline.  This meant that the news cycle was extended until the following day when newspapers were distributed.

Today, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 61% of Americans report getting their news on-line.  In addition, today there are thousands more news and information outlets available.  Moreover, with the emergence of blogs, people have the ability to respond to stories as they’re reported and even have platforms of their own.

What this means is that the news cycle has effectively vanished because news has become a never-ending stream of information.  As a result, rapid response efforts must include teams to monitor and respond to on-line media and blogs on a continual basis.  For example, President Obama not only had an on-line rapid response team on his presidential campaign but he also recently established one for the White House.

The rule of thumb is that every charge must be answered because every charge is a brush fire.  And, like brush fires, you’ve got to put every one of them out because you never know which ones will catch.

Owen Eagan is a Senior Consultant for The Saint Consulting Group, email, phone 781-831-2494