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Another Thing Republicans Hate About Obama: PR
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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Employee Satisfaction Surveys. The "New" Coke. A Toyota Prius. Eating spicy food with white pants. 

What do they all have in common? They are all examples of when good examples go terribly wrong. Sure, they all began as a solvent to make life easier but in the long run, not so much. And now, we can add another item to this dubious list — the Affordable Care Act website. With the limitless resources and extensive networks to the tech world, there is no excuse why this website sucks out loud the way it does. I know people who could have made a better website in their mother's garage while surrounded by their favorite Star Trek action figures still in their original packaging. Obamacare.com (not an official URL) is a good idea with some awful results. Given that debacle, you would think the White House would be careful about throwing any other chum in the water for the GOP sharks...but they did. 

According to the 
Washington TimesPR has entered the chum picture in the form of public relations firms to help promote HealthCare.gov. Most recently, the White House and HHS have provided a subcontract for about $1 million to a media-buying firm with little or no track record of federal contracting whose founder has deep Democratic ties. Federal records show D.C.-based Buying Time LLC won a $1.1 million award through the Recovery Act to conduct a “paid online campaign designed to drive consumers who need help with insurance issues to the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) Map page on HealthCare.gov.” Neither the company’s founder nor administration officials would discuss why the firm was hired.

Is it that difficult to find out why they were hired? If you are an apologist for this terrible PR skidmark, you are thinking the White House communications department needs help. And if you are a biased hate-monger who loves relishing in this inept handling of the website, you are thinking the White House communications department needs help. No one wins with this Congress, including the rest of us. 

Time LLC's founder, Cathie Herrick, is a veteran media buyer who, along with her firm, has worked with the Democratic National Committee and Democratic presidential campaigns, confirmed her company received a subcontract but referred questions about its work to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Why? She wants to protect her ride, keep her cash, and the bilk the government of whatever she can for a logo collection on her own website. I'm not a PR pro or anything but even I can figure this one out. 

And then we have this from Washington D.C. political publication The Hill: 

"This contract will provide CMS with resources from Weber Shandwick to conduct a public education and outreach campaign for the Health Insurance Marketplace, which will be one part of our wide-ranging outreach efforts," the spokesperson said. "The campaign will use a range of communications tactics, with an emphasis on paid media and digital outreach, to make the uninsured aware of the Marketplace and the health insurance options available to them." CMS has previously signed two contracts with Weber Shandwick, valued at $3 million and $8 million. Separately, the agency has signed a $20 million contract with the PR firm Porter Novelli

Considering the crap sandwich the U.S. government is currently being forced to eat, I would say that is one expensive meal to swallow. Definitely not worth that investment. Lastly, there's this spin on Obamacare destroying jobs (and if you are a flack with a sardonic sense of humor, you can figure this out):

Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union said that it’s hardly unusual anymore for the government to spend “big bucks” on outside public relations and advertising firms to promote presidential initiatives, noting that President George W. Bush's administration likewise used tax dollars to tout the arrival of the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

“How ironic that while the Affordable Care Act is being blamed for slowing job creation outside the Beltway, the law is offering plenty of job opportunities to firms inside the Beltway willing to promote it,” Mr. Sepp said.

MEMO to the hired guns of PR: Spin that, folks. It's your move. 

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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