The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is launching an online job-themed advocacy campaign surrounding tonight’s State of the Union address and urging its members and like-minded voters to tweet the White House and Congress “to #GetSerious about #jobs.”
It’s all part of its push deeper into social media and online lobbying. The chamber is 100 years old this year, but the organization doesn’t want an outdated, gray-haired image.
“This is not your grandfather’s chamber,” said Nick Schaper, a one-time aide to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) who is executive director of digital strategic communications at the chamber. “We want to be the leader in that digital space as well, and the strategies we’re going to implement over the next couple of days will help to demonstrate that.”
The chamber wouldn’t say precisely how much it is investing in the lobbying effort, but a spokesman called it a “significant six-figure buy in the online, print and digital space.”
Schaper added that after the State of the Union address, business interests would make their voices heard “loud and clear.”
One portal to getting its message out is the chamber’s FreeEnterprise.com website, which Schaper and other chamber strategists say they envision as something of a right-leaning, pro-business Huffington Post, complete with news of the day, blog posts and opinion pieces from business leaders.
Chris Battle, a partner with the Adfero Group, which is helping the chamber on communications strategy, said FreeEnterprise.com is not a typical association website.
“The chamber’s not trying to hide that it is a chamber property,” he said of the site. “But what makes it credible is the outside sources who are contributing. ... It has the potential to become an information source and to influence the public debate by providing news and views that are sympathetic to a pro-growth agenda. And you see this coming to a head for the State of the Union.”
At the same time, the chamber is taking out an ad buy in publications such as the Wall Street Journal and USA Today as well as paying for a sponsorship of Politico’s Playbook daily email.
“We’re just making sure that we have got every available channel — social media, traditional,” Schaper said.
The chamber’s critics, however, said the big-business lobby is just playing politics.
“Led by former staffers of Speaker Boehner and the Senate Republican Conference, the U.S. Chamber’s new media effort reflects the same partisanship and hackery that has come to embody the Chamber’s political program,” Christy Setzer, a spokeswoman for Chamber Watch, said in an email. “FreeEnterprise.com is a recycled website from a failed 2009 campaign, the Campaign for Free Enterprise, that was supposed to create 20 million new jobs. In fact, the only jobs the Campaign created were at the offices of Republican media firms. If the Chamber has any real ideas for job creation, we’d love to hear them.”
But members of the chamber say the effort will make a splash. For one, the print advertisements include graphic codes so that people can tweet its advocacy message from a smartphone just by scanning the code.
“Literally I can hold my phone up to a code and within seconds I can be broadcasting my support for a certain issue,” said Blain Rethmeier, senior vice president of public affairs and government relations at U.S. Travel, a member of the chamber.
The chamber also is trying to drive more of its membership to its Facebook page, where it wants folks to debate issues.
“This is a way to not have a one-way conversation with your membership,” Rethmeier said. “I’m excited that they’re taking this on but even more excited to see what it becomes.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.