Mark Leibovich asks the question “what kind of relationship will the Obama Whitehouse have with the media?”.
It’s a fascinating read, getting at some of the tenets of Obama’s communications strategy. Some of which runs counter to what many companies are thinking today:
The paradox of this scene was that the Obama campaign’s communications strategy was predicated in part on an aggressive indifference to this insider set. Staff members were encouraged to ignore new Web sites like The Page, written by Time’s Mark Halperin, and Politico, both of which had gained instant cachet among the Washington smarty-pants set. “If Politico and Halperin say we’re winning, we’re losing,” Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, would repeat mantralike around headquarters. He said his least favorite words in the English language were, “I saw someone on cable say this. . . .”
I’m not sure those of us in the businessworld have this luxury but it’s worth asking the question, should we just ignore blogmedia? I don’t think so…
- Communicate through the mediums your audiences care about – don’t pander to convention: “The campaign bragged that Obama never even visited with the editorial board of The Washington Post — a decision that would have been unheard of for any serious candidate in a previous presidential cycle. “You could go to Cedar Rapids and Waterloo and understand that people aren’t reading The Washington Post,” Gibbs told me last month in Chicago.”
- A focus on directly reaching audiences: “The campaign highlighted its mastery of new political media that included a vast database of e-mail addresses and an ability to quickly put up Web sites and use blogs, online video and text messaging. They viewed themselves as “game changers” (the 2008 cliché for innovators), avatars of a New Way organization that had more in common with a Silicon Valley start-up — think Google or YouTube — than with any traditional political campaign that came before it.“
- Messages were tightly controlled: “Obama’s operatives spoke with a single voice and a precise message and only when they wanted to. They did it with a smile, not complaining — at least not publicly — about how the press was the enemy. And they did it using interactive tools that bred a feeling of real-time connectedness between campaign and voter.”
- Skip the intermediaries and go direct – engage and demonstrate openness: “In recent weeks, the incoming president has begun delivering a weekly video address online — the Obama version of the traditional weekly radio address. Plouffe has initiated a kind of online suggestion box, where voters are invited to write in and discuss the issues they are most concerned about.”
- Put communications at the center of your operations. Obama shares on thing in common with all the great CEO communicators – his communications leaders are direct reports and work directly with him. Non-stop. Andy Grove’s communications leaders sat one cube away. When Peter Blake’s America’s Cup winning team started the assault on the cup the communicaitons team sat within arms length. “Like Bush’s, Obama’s campaign brain trust was unusually small and close-knit. This was especially true of the candidate’s traveling orbit — “the plane” or “the bubble,” as it is known in campaign shorthand. Gibbs was a relentless presence there, usually at Obama’s side. … Having a White House spokesman who is close to the president has advantages. “When the you-know-what hits the fan, knowing of what you speak is an invaluable asset,” said Jody Powell, who served as President Carter’s press secretary for his entire term in office. “How can you expect someone getting thirdhand information to get any respect from the press or public?”
From the title it got me thinking… how often is a CEO’s tenure defined by the relationship they have with the press? Clearly, content is king. If you’ve got a steady stream of great news flowing from a great strategy, coverage normally follows. At the same time, a CEO can have an equally important role in defining the tenor of media relations. I’ve worked for a few that simply despise the media – at every level relations were antagonistic. Where it is more open and engaging, the dialog becomes valuable for both the company and the media.
Either way, the notes that headed my way on my last two appointments to lead communications mirrored Gibbs… “Congratulations. And condolences.”