Tag Archives: POLITICO

Obama the “puppet master”? What White House communications can tell us about the change in public communication

This story from Politico is very enlightening. The headline is this: mainstream media power is rapidly waning and the Obama administration understands and is taking full advantage of the change.

I avoid politics here, but politics and crisis communication are closely linked. As one former White House press aide told me: every day in the White House is a crisis. The level of media and public focus is unrelenting, and the stakes are high.

President Obama states flatly that his administration is the most transparent ever. The White House press corp couldn’t disagree more. Here is a quote from the Politico article:

“The way the president’s availability to the press has shrunk in the last two years is a disgrace,” said ABC News White House reporter Ann Compton, who has covered every president back to Gerald R. Ford. “The president’s day-to-day policy development — on immigration, on guns — is almost totally opaque to the reporters trying to do a responsible job of covering it. There are no readouts from big meetings he has with people from the outside, and many of them aren’t even on his schedule. This is different from every president I covered. This White House goes to extreme lengths to keep the press away.”

So, who is right? Perhaps both. And the difference is the Internet, digital communications, social media, and direct engagement–all the things we talk about here.

I remember clearly early in the president’s first term when he announced a press conference, not by a media alert, but through social media alone. Having seen first hand during the Gulf Oil Spill the way in which this administration demanded and took full control of the communications about the spill–much to the dismay of some of the government communicators and certainly BP–it is clear that the directive from the top is to control, manage and manipulate. That is certainly consistent with Politico’s analysis.

The lesson for crisis communications is quite clear. The old game was “media management,” which in my mind was always an oxymoron. I can no more manage the media than I can manage the moon. Now the game is direct communications. That means knowing who is important to you, establishing on-going channels of communication, directly engaging, being responsive, quick to catch and correct rumors and misinformation. Where does the media fit in this? Reporters are one of the important audiences–but with their own agendas and own motives (ratings). They are far less important than most in crisis communication continue to believe. They do so, I believe, because “media management” is what they know, and is to some degree “easier” than all that work of direct engagement.


PRSA Conference–a few observations

The first day of the PRSA International conference is over, about to head into day 2. A few quick observations. The change in booth content is stunning. Just two years ago there was a wide variety of products and services on display. Today, social media dominates the scene. All these tools and systems aimed at helping you monitor and take advantage of the social media world.

I’m a bit bothered by it. There is a hype and frenzy about it that reminds me a bit of the business trade shows I went to in the late 1970s and early 1980s when business technology was rapidly emerging. Fax machines were big news, the earliest sign of small business computers, copiers, printing machines (OK, carbon paper was still in vogue but was on its way out.) I look back now and see the tremendous transformation. But I think what bothers me is the loss of focus on fundamentals when there is such hype and excitement about something new and, for now anyway, a little mysterious.

When all the hype and hyperbole died down and computers were installed, copiers were killing trees by the forest, and faxes were beginning the information transfer revolution, business people discovered that business was still about selling and producing quality products and services and most importantly about building long term relationships.

Social media, for all its wonders, is no business panacea. Build a Facebook page and they will not necessarily come. But provide quality products and services, do innovative things to attract attention, and most importantly work on building and sustaining high value relationships and success will follow. Oh yes, the hype will go on and “experts” of all stripes will come forth to proclaim the new magic, but when the show is over and we go back to work, it is delivering and serving and listening that matters most.

Excellent presentations by Bettina Luebscher of the UN World Food Program and Jim VandeHei, founder of POLITICO. Key learning from Bettina–the power of celebrity, in this case in fundraising, is something that should not be forgotten. From Jim–three key points he made about today’s news world: diffusion, niche and fickleness. Absolutely right, and in that there are huge opportunities for entrepreneurs and huge risks for established operations. Nimbleness is the name of the game.