IN Forefront: “See That Sword Over There? Go Fall On It.”

This post by Mass Ave PR principal Jennifer Wagner originally appeared on the Indianapolis Business Journal‘s Forefront blog:

Obvious: The national and statewide fallout from Gov. Mike Pence’s #JustIN state-run news service has made it clear that he is not ready for a White House run. He’s also significantly eroded the notion that he’s an honest-to-goodness nice guy trying to do the right thing for Indiana and replaced it with the idea that he wants to spoon-feed bylined “news” stories to local media outlets instead of embracing the more traditional two-way information flow.

(For the record, I think Pence personally is a nice guy, even though I disagree with a great many of his policies. And I feel bad that the folks around him don’t see that quality as one of his best assets, choosing instead to shield him from reporters he’d probably feel perfectly comfortable talking with.)

Less obvious: The dwindling practice of flacks falling on their swords when things go awry.

I always tell my clients that when the news is good, it’s your story to share, my job to help set up the sharing. When something goes wrong, it’s on me to fix it.

IN Forefront: “Cheers to the Freakin’ Weekend”

This post by Mass Ave PR principal Jennifer Wagner originally appeared on the Indianapolis Business Journal‘s Forefront blog:

Dear Indiana General Assembly,

You may be aware that I run my own PR firm. When things get busy or I need to tap into someone else’s expertise, I’ll contract work out, but for the most part, it’s just me.

I’ve been employed a number of places, but I’ve found that being my own boss really is the best fit for me.

We’ve got two kids, and I want to be there for them while they’re still young enough to like me. That means my office schedule matches school drop-off and pickup times, and I calendar meetings around field trips and class projects.

This is an open letter, so let’s be honest: There are days when I work from home in yoga pants until well after lunch, showering only because it would be super-embarrassing to fetch our first-grader in the same clothes I was wearing when I walked her to school.

Now, this part might be a little awkward, but it would really make things a lot easier for me if you’d legislate some time, place and manner restrictions on the larger PR firms in town. You know, to level the playing field.

I mean, sure, I work the same number of hours — probably more — as any professional in my field, but the big firms have all the advantage, what with their carefree, 22-year-old rookie flacks and their empty-nester partners. How am I supposed to compete with that? I am trying to raise a family while running my own business, and that can be sooooooooooo hard!

So just do me a favor this session and pass a bill that either restricts the work week to four days for big firms or requires all Indiana companies to set aside at least 20 percent of their outside PR contracts for firms with fewer than five employees.

Oh, what’s that? My proposal sounds unfair and stupid, the opposite of a free marketplace where everyone comes to the table and competes for business?

Because it is.

IN Forefront: “Wage War: Let’s Talk Numbers”

This post by Mass Ave PR founding principal Jennifer Wagner originally appeared on the Indianapolis Business Journal‘s Forefront blog:

As the legislative session kicks into gear this week, my fellow Democrats are back with a renewed push for a major increase to the minimum wage in Indiana, which currently is the same as the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Here’s the deal:

The greatly outnumbered Democrats in the state Senate announced legislative priorities Wednesday that include raising Indiana’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. Indiana’s current minimum wage is the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.
Sen. Karen Tallian of Portage said the increase would help ease the burden on low-income individuals and families and reduce the number of people living below the poverty level.

Should we increase the minimum wage to $10.10 because that’s what it would be if it had kept pace with inflation all these years? Yes. Would it be a tremendous help to low-income Hoosiers who have to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet? Of course. Will this proposal go anywhere? Not a chance. So here’s an alternative for folks on my side to push: Increase the minimum wage to $8 per hour.

That would be more in line with GOP-led states like Arizona and Florida (both $8.05 per hour) but still lower than all of the surrounding states except Kentucky.

Why go for a small increase? Because it’s attainable, and when you’re in the super-duper-minority, you set attainable goals so you can actually get things done. Let the GOP turn down a modest increase of 75 cents an hour. Let them make the argument that we can’t afford it when almost all of our neighbors have a higher minimum in place.

Put them in a political box, y’all.

It’s not hard, and by the way, we might actually get something, albeit a small something, accomplished for those who need it most.

IN Forefront: “Out Of The Wilderness”

In the wake of a bad election, you can cast blame or look to the future. I did the latter in a recent post for the Indianapolis Business Journal’s Forefront blog:

It’s chilly out here. Some days, it seems like the rain will never end. I wish it was easier to start a fire, but kindling is hard to come by.
Welcome to the wilderness. I’m an Indiana Democrat, and I’d like to leave this place before winter comes.
You don’t need me to tell you that Tuesday night was a rough one for Democrats nationwide and here. You do need me to tell you how we fix it.
Some of what I write here may seem harsh at first blush. I don’t have all the answers. But I can tell you that we have to fundamentally change the way we approach elections if we want to find the pathway back to political success in Indiana.
Borrowing some of former Gov. Mitch Daniels’ 2004 campaign language, here’s my stab at a roadmap to an Indiana Democratic comeback:

CITIES MATTER
The future of our party is in urban and suburban areas. Why? Because progressive people move to cities. I wrote about it after the 2012 election, and Tuesday’s results proved it again.
If we want to take back the Governor’s Office in 2016 or 2020, we have to build a strong brand in densely populated places where our voters live and where moderate voters can be persuaded to vote for smart candidates with vision and ideas.
That effort starts next year with mayoral races across our state. Here in Indianapolis, it should be a lighter lift now that Mayor Greg Ballard has announced he won’t run for a third term. But we’ve got to have strong candidates in other big cities who can make the case that Democrats should be leading because we’re good at governing.
That brings me to what’s probably my most important point.

IDEAS MATTER
I have no idea what the Democratic platform was this election cycle. I read the document, but it said nothing. (I can say that because I wrote previous versions of the platform that similarly said nothing, and this version was based on those.)
We have to stand for something, and that doesn’t mean just trotting out tired old clichés about “fighting for our schools” and “protecting our seniors.”
For many years, I was the voice of what we opposed. Now we need to figure out what we’re for. Minimum wage hike? Legalizing marijuana? More local control for schools? Universal pre-K? Criminal code changes? Ethics reform at the Statehouse?
Throw it all out there, and let’s have a conversation.
Oh, and one more thing I feel compelled to note because the “traditional public school” campaign rhetoric failed so completely on Tuesday: Hoosier families like school choice. Get over it, y’all.
We used to be the party that voters trusted on education. We let the Republicans steal the issue away from us because we were more interested in pining for the past and protecting the status quo.
Here’s the incredibly simple equation for a quality education: great teacher + student. Where it happens isn’t important. The type of school isn’t important. If we want parents to trust us with their votes, we have to focus on their kids, not the dollar signs.

MONEY MATTERS
Everyone loves to hate money in politics, but try running a campaign without it. For a long time, Indiana Democrats relied on a few flush-with-cash sources to make ends meet. As those wells began to run dry, we backfilled, but we never really approached it strategically.
We have to diversify our funding sources so that we’re not treating our donors like ATMs.
The good news? There’s money out there for candidates who stand for stuff. Here I go again with all that pesky “we need to have new ideas” rhetoric, but if we build an agenda, new money will come.

CANDIDATES MATTER
Recruiting people to run for office, especially in an environment like this one, is a tough task, but there are folks out there who want to be in public service for the right reasons. They want to give back, and they are willing to endure the long, thankless hours for a chance to serve.
If you are running for office for the perks or the power, you don’t get to put your name on the ballot. And that goes for incumbents as well as challengers.
In the races we can win, we have to put outstanding people on the ballot. Our communities are filled with strong, qualified leaders, and some of them are Democrats. We have to persuade them to run.
THE BENCH MATTERS
We lost the Governor’s Office in 2004, and we lost the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office in 2007. Those two offices created generations of political talent.
With legislative maps that prevent us from making any sizable gains at the Statehouse, we have to look elsewhere to grow our bench. Follow me back to my argument that cities are our future.
Not only do we need to recruit high-quality candidates to run for Mayor in every city in Indiana, but we need to use these progressive areas to cultivate new talent. City council members aren’t high-profile, but those offices are a place where young leaders can get their feet wet and learn how to govern.
And I’ll just say this for anyone who’s still reading the Longest Forefront Blog Post Ever: There is no substitute for working in government. You can set up all the leadership training programs you want, but until you’ve been in the trenches, you don’t know how it feels.

SOME THINGS DON’T MATTER
I would love to tell you that we can win down-ticket or off-year statewide offices. Barring an anti-incumbent wave or an outright fluke, winning those offices isn’t in the cards.
Similarly, there are Statehouse and Congressional districts where we just can’t win.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t run people for these offices. In fact, I’d argue that the statewide offices should be another place where we recruit rising stars who know they almost certainly won’t win, but running will help them raise their name ID and win something else (see also: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg).
But when it comes to doling out resources (candidate recruitment efforts, campaign money, staff support, etc.), we have to be particular. We elected Democrats in 2006, 2008 and 2012 because we stayed focused on the races we knew we could win.
That’s a hard thing to do because it requires tough conversations with folks who are running for office for all the right reasons but who just don’t have a path to victory.
Ultimately, though, avoiding the distractions will enable us to rebuild. We can’t do it the same way we’ve always done it, and I know change is hard, but the root word of “progressive” is “progress” – forward movement toward a destination.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been much of a wilderness girl. Let’s get out of this place before the bears eat us.

MAPR 2.0: Same Great Service, New Menu Of Services

After two years of using our honestly priced menu of PR services, we know which items sell better than others. Reading this recent Washington Post story about restaurant menus made us realize it was time to overhaul our offerings and narrow the menu down to what clients are actually buying. Because choice is awesome, but too many choices can be oppressive. From the WaPo piece:

“We overcomplicated the restaurants and didn’t give restaurants an opportunity to breathe,” Tim Fenton, McDonald’s chief operating officer, said in an earnings call earlier this year. “We need to do fewer products with better execution.”

Our situation is a little different: We tried to package every possible option and put it on the menu. The result was overwhelming and, in certain cases, distracting.

When we first got started, for example, putting a crisis communications plan priced at $10,000 on the menu seemed like a good idea. But the figure was daunting for the kind of clients we work with, and a few folks mentioned that it didn’t really seem to fit with the model.