Monday, August 25, 2014

Obama, PR, and Message Control

Early in his Presidency, Barack Obama was often accused of playing it too tight, sometimes not giving reporters a shot to ask a question at all, or only taking pre-approved queries vetted by aides. But recently, the President has been much more open and available. Is this a shift in policy, or has the President relaxed his message control protocols in his second term?

Of course, message control is part of what being POTUS is all about. You can’t be the leader of the free world and not understand media. The difference between what you know and what you can say will turn your hair gray.

But changes in how Presidents control their messages can offer compelling PR lessons. When they come into the “marketplace,” new Presidents are often closed to outside ideas and leading questions that might push them off their message or detour a conversation. They want all the attention on them and what they have to say. The communication is not yet a conversation, it is much more a dissertation.

Then, as they establish their brand and learn the reality of their “market situation,” sometimes the communication is more open and less one-sided. Only sometimes. Some Presidential “brands” chose not only to never really engage in conversation with the press, but they only submitted terse and carefully vetted missives. Others have been easy and gregarious, without offering much of substance in their communication. Style and personality play into this approach, but never forget, at the core is very finely crafted message control.

You will never reach the levels of success you wish to achieve without carefully crafted and controlled messaging. You need consumers to respond to your communication in predictable ways, just as politicians do. This requires a long-term strategy with adequate foresight and a keen understanding of both where you want to go and who you need to talk to in order to make that happen.

How’s your long-term PR plan?

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