Obama’s Commander-In-Chief Moment

 Obamas Commander In Chief Moment

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Commander In Chief Barack Obama’s address to the nation on the Boston terrorist attacks.

He’s had to address the nation during four mass shootings and one major natural disaster, but President Obama has never had to deal with a suspected act of terrorism. But when two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon this past Monday, Obama had to go from President to Commander in Chief.

The attacks in Boston took on another level of depth when the media announced that the President would be addressing the nation. Clearly his speech had been prepared, but it was without the gloss the campaigning orator is accustomed to – rightly so.

President Obama appeared before a shocked nation wearing an expression of stern concern. His voice was forthright, his delivery serious but not emotional. In the brief address, he made sure to say that he and Speaker John Boehner, usually his arch rival, were communicating and that on this issue, there were no Democrats or Republicans, only Americans. With no information to share he stated unequivocally that justice would be served. His delivery reassured a nation that in shock and proved the key crisis communications principle: Keep communicating, calmly, even if there is no news to be shared.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Commander In Chief Barack Obama’s address to the nation on the Boston bombing.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: In times of crisis, what you say is nearly secondary to how you say it. Study carefully Obama’s face and tone of voice in this address and you will see a President in command. Even while conceding there was no information, Obama’s demeanor said that was only a matter of time. He asserted union of parties, gave a patriotic nod to Boston’s resilience, and wisely took no questions. If the antidote to chaos is control, the nation may have felt that the crisis was under control after this speech.

David Cameron’s Great Expectations

 David Camerons Great Expectations

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a speech promising to hold a referendum on Britain’s future in the EU by 2017. By then, he said, his government would be able to work with its European partners on reforms towards his vision of a better EU – in his words, more flexible, more adaptable, more open. At that point, he proposed, Brits should decide to stay in or get out.

The speech itself was direct, upfront, thoughtful, and inclusive.  It was passionate where appropriate, describing the UK approach as “practical rather than emotional.” There were concessions for every interest group: sufficient criticism to please at home, but nothing so deeply offensive as to justify open outrage by powerful partners abroad. No obvious blunders, no mistakes; just smart speechwriting at its best.

Although debatable that the “EU issue” was  top-of-mind for British people, they will now rightly expect their government to get it resolved. Was Cameron’s tactic to appease the conservative UK press and the euro-sceptics in his own party? If so, did it buy him time to focus on more important issues, or has he seriously jeopardized his political future? From a communications perspective, he opened up not one but many Pandora’s boxes and inspired a myriad of expectations. Was this the intention?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for David Cameron. Be wary of creating expectations that you may not want to meet.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Only promise what you can deliver. Communicating always involves creating and managing expectations, and in complex situations, different stakeholders’ expectations inevitably diverge. Even if the public pressure is almost unbearable (and it seems it wasn’t in this case) controversy is almost never resolved by creating new expectations. When you can’t control expecations and aren’t certain of the outcome, then it’s usually the most vocal who demand their stance be taken. This is one speech Cameron may come to regret.

 

 

 

Wait – What Did Jodie Foster Just Say?

 Wait   What Did Jodie Foster Just Say?The reviews for Jodie Foster’s Golden Globes acceptance speech are in, and they’re mixed. After winning the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement award for 47 years in the business, Foster gave a speech that continues to confuse the media and Twitterverse. The recurring complaint: What on earth did it all mean? Foster’s messaging had everyone baffled.

This was a complicated speech. She touched on many issues, but the headliner for the media was that this was her official “coming out” announcement. The key words “I hope that you’re not disappointed that there won’t be a big coming-out speech tonight” ensured it was exactly that. But Foster was of the view that this was not big news; she gave the impression that her orientation was widely understood already. Cue more messaging – plenty more, and that ‘s where the confusion began.

She touched on the importance of privacy, her love of movies, the need to be heard and seen in life, and then what sounded like the real bombshell – the announcement about retiring from the film industry, at least in front of the camera. Yet backstage, she assured the media she would continue to act and direct. Then what was she talking about?

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Jodie Foster. We give this grade reluctantly; her speech deserves a higher rating, but the subsequent press reaction indicates otherwise.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: One message, fine; two, guaranteed confusion. And two announcements – she’s out, and she’s out of the business, or is she? – is just overwhelming. This was not a rambling speech, but it was a complicated one. For a six-minute awards monologue, it was probably too ambitious for a public that wants everything in a six-second headline. This might have been better placed in a longer, more considered format and venue, such as a talk show. (Jodie, meet Oprah.) Critics and the public continue to scratch their heads, but Jodie Foster, perhaps best known for being an independent spirit, probably wouldn’t have it any other way.

A Serious Storm, A Simple (and Effective) Message

OB VD264 obamaf G 20121028145952 150x150 A Serious Storm, A Simple (and Effective) Message

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for a President’s speech that reassured and activated.

Hurricane Sandy has managed to do the unthinkable in terms of media coverage: moved the last ten days of electioneering off the front page and turned national attention toward disaster recovery. President Obama joined the conversation on Monday morning, and with a coupe of clearly honed messages at a hastily-convened press conference, he made the transition from electioneering President to President in Charge.

Obama’s short speech is worth watching for anyone wanting to know how to craft a simple message. What started off with a slightly wordy and lengthy introduction soon became clear. Yes, preparations were in place and the East Coast was as ready as it could be, but the main takeaway? “Listen to what officials are saying – this is a serious storm.”

Obama’s speech was designed to reassure, and to manage expectations. He flagged the  inevitable issues that will arise post-storm, including long-running power outages and transportation delays. But the main lesson from the speech is that reassuring the public that everything’s under control is not enough; a call to action is needed and grabs attention. Getting the public directly involved takes the conversation to a higher level of engagement.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for a President’s speech that reassured and activated.

The PR Takeaway: To get the public’s attention, give the public something to do. President Obama’s speech included a roll call of what was intended to reassure a nervous public. What made the difference was clear instruction. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani made a similar speech following September 11, when he asked New Yorkers to go back to their lives, the streets, and shopping. A call to action from someone in authority got attention then, as it does now.