Massachusetts launched a new industry yesterday – the biggest start-up in the Commonwealth’s history – and while most start-ups don’t need intensive strategic communications until later in their evolution, reputation management will be critical to the success of this new venture from day one.
The new industry is legalized gambling, a multi-billion-dollar enterprise that many believe will eventually take its place among Massachusetts’ traditional economic engines – tech, life sciences, healthcare, higher education, financial services, etc. In this business model, the state is the chief executive officer and chief ethics officer; every taxpayer is a shareholder; and, every community is a stakeholder, directly or indirectly, for better or worse.
As a quasi-public enterprise overseeing privately run subsidiaries, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) will act as a hybrid board of directors and regulator, responsible for fulfilling the promises of the business but also acting as the eyes and ears of the citizens. The communications challenges it faces are immense and serious.
Here are three important steps for a successful launch of this new venture in the first quarter of 2012:
1. The remaining board and staff appointments are critical. Stephen P. Crosby’s appointment as MGC chairman is, in the words of the state’s most prominent gambling watchdog, “inspired.” The four other upcoming picks, which include one each from Attorney General Martha Coakley and Treasurer Steven Grossman, must be equally so. The group’s staff – legal counsel, financial analyst and law enforcement – must be experienced and beyond reproach.
2. A clear, common sense mission, vision and values must be articulated. Honesty, transparency and accountability are the lenses through which the MGC’s conduct must be viewed. Crosby would do well to use the start of 2012 (weather be damned) as an opportunity to travel to every region of the state to speak with business and civic groups and the media about his principles as chairman.
3. Every detail of the process must be converted into a scalable, interactive web site. This should be done as soon as possible. Each facet of the siting process, the fees, the regulatory oversight, the responsibilities of potential developers, etc., should be laid out through easily accessible navigation and plain English. No secrets. The site should feature public engagement capabilities that include social media and the ability of citizens to ask questions and get answers.
Crosby’s appointment yesterday was, by most accounts, a good start and he won deserved kudos. He immediately struck the right tone, stating: “My job and eventually the job of the commission is, first and foremost, to maximize the public good and to minimize the unintended consequences.’’
It won’t be easy. Before and after Gov. Deval Patrick tapped Crosby, some of the state’s most influential reporters were already cynically chattering on social media as to when the first indictments would be handed down. In Foxborough last night, a town meeting on a casino proposal featured not joy, but anxiety and tension. And for Patrick himself, short of his historic appointments to the Supreme Judicial Court, the roll-out of gambling will be a milestone of his political legacy, like it or not.
Polls have consistently shown that most citizens, bouyed by pleasant memories of trips to Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun and Las Vegas, support legalized gambling as a hypothetical concept. Where those perceptions will stand when reality takes hold five years from now hinges almost entirely on how the MGC behaves and performs, especially in its 2012 launch phase.