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Will Washington’s Sequestration Sequester Our PR Budgets?

Mar 12, 2013

It’s time to add “sequester” to the list of words we could do without. In case you don’t already know, dictionary.com defines it as “to remove or withdraw into solitude or retirement; seclude?”

You know, terms like, “fiscal cliff,” “kick the can down the road,” “move the needle,” and my election-year favorite, “47%.” I’m starting to think so.

SequestrationMaybe it was because the mainstream media already began referring to Wednesday’s Mid-Atlantic snowstorm, which was supposed to “retire” DC for a day, as “Snowquester.” Then again, maybe I’m just wondering what communications wiz chose “sequester” as the clunky, if euphemistic, word describing $85 billion in mandatory government spending cuts that went into March 1.

Whether Uncle Sam calls it sequestration or the “Sh*% Hits the Fan Act,” make no mistake, these cuts, if implemented fully, are predicted to have far ranging negative consequences. They range from an estimated 1%-1.5% drop in GDP, (resulting in nearly zero annual US economic growth) to reduced satellite coverage and lower resolution (read: accuracy) predicting the weather.

But a recent AdAge article brings up another good point that hits very close to our PR home. Government ad spending is one of the first expenses on the sequestering chopping block. The army, for instance, spent $47 million in the US in advertising in 2011. And government PR is essentially a DC cottage industry, ripe for additional reductions.

Sequestration sucks for PR in other ways too. As a profession that cares deeply about the implied messages of things, draconian communications spending cuts by Washington might send a powerful signal to private industry that they too, can do without in-house or outsourced public relations. The sequester might sequester spirits as much as it does budgets.

It’s what’s known as the proverbial “chilling effect.”

I truly hope this will not be the case. Yet with congressional gridlock at historic highs and approval ratings hovering near an all-time low of 15%, there’s growing fear that the full weight of the spending cuts will take hold across the entire advertising, PR and marketing sectors.

After that, the chilling effect gets down right cold. If government stumbles under its own bloated fiscal weight, you can be sure the private sector will follow as the two are inexorably linked. The fact that the Dow Jones achieved two days of record closes and February’s jobs report (which comes out Friday) is predicted to add a respectable 175,000 jobs might not be enough to offset DC’s disarray.

The irony is that, were such a scenario to unfold, each political party would be working overtime to spin the causes of these problems as the other party’s fault, requiring some fancy communication skills in the process. Our services would again be deemed “needed.” Unlike the sequester, now is not the time for the PR industry to “withdraw into solitude.”

Effective communications is essential in good times and bad. So what can we do as an industry to lobby Washington in reconsidering its actions? I guarantee 100% of Americans are in favor of that (not 47%) with no needle moving or can kicking required.

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