This is not about politics or policy. It’s about process—an exercise in public relations and communication that directly applies to every organization—a one-person entrepreneurship, CEOs of a small business or a giant corporation all the way up to the President of the United States.
Over the past year, the Obama administration has botched myriad PR opportunities and come up the big loser in the court of public opinion.
Quite simply, it is imperative to have a system in place to recognize a public relations crisis and deal with it—a plan that can be implemented immediately. Not tomorrow. Not after the weekend. Now! In his seminal book, “Guerrilla P.R. 2.0,” Michael Levine writes:
One of the single most important points to keep in mind when facing a negative situation of your own is to follow the old dictum: The best defense is a good offence. You must never go on the defensive. By anticipating negative questions you can stand ready with positives.
Levine adds, “There are two speeds in modern P.R.—fast and dead.”
Too many CEOs—Barack Obama included—do not understand the art and science of public relations. PR is too important to be handled by well-meaning amateurs.
It’s not good when the face of your organization has egg on it.
An April 22 White House statement noted that following a briefing with President Obama, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen, Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, “Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes was dispatched to the region yesterday to assist with coordination and response.” The Coast Guard announced that four units were responding to the fire, with additional units en route.
On May 5, H. Josef Herbert and Erica Werner of the AP confirmed the MediaMatters.org conclusion above that the Obama people moved fast:
While the Obama administration has faced second-guessing about the speed and effectiveness of some of its actions, a narrative pieced together by The Associated Press, based on documents, interviews and public statements, shows little resemblance to Katrina in either the characterization of the threat or the federal government’s response.
“The business of PR is letting people in on what you are doing,” said my first mentor in business, Evelyn Lawson. A branch of PR is “spin”—the business of changing perceptions.
Two days after the explosion—April 22—a White House press release described the president’s Oval Office meeting to discuss the situation in the Gulf of Mexico. Included was a photograph of the gathering. No question exists that the president and his team were in action “from day one.”
Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.