Washington has definitely seen change since President Obama has come to town – not just with policy, but with a public relations strategy too. President Obama has kept his promise of governing in a more transparent and open way - there have been press conferences, numerous media interviews, and frequent online communication. The Obama-Biden team is showing leadership when this country is hungry for direction.
The first 100 days have not been perfect, but when faced with adversity – this administration knows how to respond. When Sen. Daschle withdrew his nomination for HHS secretary, Obama took full responsibility for the vetting problem. When people were outraged over the AIG bonuses, President Obama admitted he was angry and upset too. He did not place the blame on another elected official or another political party; he said he would do whatever it took to fix this problem.
Obama has personally stepped up to the plate. When the Stimulus package was in jeopardy, he empowered grassroots supporters to call their congressperson to say they support the bill. Obama communicated this message through e-mail campaigns, town hall meetings, and media interviews. He has constantly repeated the same message by saying that the economy will not be fixed overnight. This seems to be working, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, Americans do not blame Obama for the downfall in the economy.
It is always good to keep campaign promises – not only for PR purposes, but more importantly, because it is the reason candidates get elected. And, Obama has done just that – Guantanamo will be closing, restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research have been reversed, and troops will come home from Iraq. The rollout of announcements like this has been strategic and well planned. Whether it is at a well-timed signing ceremony, media interviews, and press conferences or through an online component, this administration has successfully spoken about why their decisions are the right ones.
Press conferences have been more than just an opportunity for national media outlets to ask questions – Obama and his team are savvy enough to know that the media landscape is changing and they must adjust. At his first news conference, he called on a blogger from The Huffington Post. And at his other press conference, reporters from Ebony, Univision, and Stars and Stripes asked questions too. Smart move – this enabled him to get specific messages out. For example, the Univision reporter asked about his Mexico border policy while the Stars and Stripes reporter asked about benefits for veterans – two things Obama has been touting.
It is also important to realize that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is not just a mouthpiece for the administration – he is a part of the inner circle of advisors. Reporters know that he has the ear of the president and is part of important meetings, which makes him trustworthy and extremely reliable. He is serious when he needs to be, yet has proven he has witty sense of humor too.
And, Michelle Obama's PR strategy has also been successful – visiting government agencies to boost morale, appearing on the cover of Vogue, People, and O and talking about life at The White House. Her brutal honesty is refreshing. She has spoken about her family's home life, which make the Obamas seem like your next-door neighbors. While she has kept her promise to be “mom-in-chief”, she is also using her celebrity-status to also talk about issues her and her husband care about.
Not everything has been PR perfect for the Obama administration. I personally love a good sarcastic, funny comment, but President Obama needs to realize that the world's stage is not an episode of 30 Rock. He still needs to be more careful with his off the cuff remarks (i.e. Special Olympics) and flashing a smile at the wrong time.
Overall, I believe that Obama and his communications team are extremely focused. They have responded quickly to problems and have been successful in managing their daily message. They answer questions directly, fess up when they have made a mistake and they are remaining cool under a lot of pressure. The first 100 days of the Obama administration have been a definite PR success.
Laura Gross is president of Scott Circle Communications.