Resuscitating White House communications

Posted on September 16, 2009

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July 22, 2009

After eight years in a coma, presidential Q&A sessions and addresses have been reinvigorated by the White House—and just in time.  Hearing from President Obama virtually every day during his current campaign for health care reform may be called politicking by some, but his messages are informative and often inspiring. 

He has been visiting health care facilities, talking with doctors and nurses, patients and parents; and it’s important to know that he is so close to the issues in the field, not just in briefing memos.  He is fielding questions from the White House press corps on a regular basis now. 

But he has moved beyond this conventional venue to grant individual interviews to network anchors.  At the same time he is projecting his regular-guy image on the pitcher’s mound at the All-Star Game and in commenting on the Michael Jackson tunes he still carries on his iPod.

On health care, Obama has also been resolutely on message, despite pressure from the opposing party and his own to go slower or allow taxing of benefits or any of a number of other concessions.  The package will be paid for without increasing the budget deficit, he repeatedly promises. No one making under $250,000 a year will see higher taxes, and so on.

With the health care reform campaign, President Obama may be creating a welcome new template for communicating national issues:  

  • Visit impacted people and places first and then communicate policies, rather than the reverse.   Obama saw and appreciated the results of health care inequities long before he took the oath of office.
  • Do you homework and labor diligently in creating your proposal—then stick to it in unwavering fashion.  Compromise details if you must, but don’t compromise principles.
  • As every marketing executive will affirm, speak often and in many different venues to ensure your message remains high in the public’s awareness.
  • Be eloquent, not encyclopedic.  Real-life issues require real-life anecdotes and real empathy with target audiences.
  • Set ambitious deadlines for ambitious projects.  Beyond the “to-the-moon-in-this-decade” analogy, any small-business owner who has sold a company will tell you that the deal should be completed within 30 days—otherwise one or both parties can lose focus and interest as minor issues impede major progress.  The president insists his August deadline for a health care proposal—and December deadline for passage–can be achieved if we all focus on the principles of reform that must be implemented.

Let’s hope that a healthier White House attitude toward communication produces a more robust and constructive discussion in the public forum.

 
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