Grading Out President Obama’s Image Management

Politics aside, one would have to grade out President Obama’s image management as a solid A (assuming he turned in all of his homework assignments).

Given he inherited an economy teetering on the brink, he’s followed the first rule in any crisis; i.e., consistently communicate the story which, in turn, minimizes any voids.

And don’t tell me his image took a hit from plugging Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics. The last thing we need is a president so concerned with the short term that he cherry picks causes which are already definitive winners.

Of course it doesn’t hurt to have gifted help in the form of folks like chief speech writer Jonathan Favreau. I’m particularly impressed that Obama allocates time for Favreau as opposed to sending him off to source with the minions.

According to Favreau in a New York Times story:

“He gives me lines that he wants to use, phrases, ideas — he sends me e-mails with chunks of outlines and speeches — so it’s a real collaborative effort. It’s very much a two-way street. It’s a little bit like being Tom Brady’s quarterback coach.”

Stepping back, I think it’s also fair to say that the PR team behind the president has done a decent job. More than any other administration that I can remember, President Obama’s communications team recognizes the importance of both transparency and getting out in front of issues.

I suppose Team Obama might have been proactive in letting the Nobel Prize committee know their guy would take a pass this time. With that said, they did manage to get ex-President Jimmy Carter to weigh in to diffuse the issue.

And one could argue they got too far out front in publicly attacking Fox News. When Anita Dunn, the White House communications director, says Fox operates “almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party,” the words draw a line in the sand with no upside.

Still, President Obama manages to stay above the fray. You might not always agree with the President, but he and his compadres are visible in expressing their views.

It’s been well chronicled by publications ranging from BusinessWeek to Mashable that candidate Obama embraced social media like no other (those social media stats contrasting Obama with McCain are close to painful). Again, he had a bit of a secret weapon in digital agency Blue State, which created the infamous my.barakobama.com site. No surprise that President Obama continues to depend on social media to get the word out.

And the President’s commitment to social media seems to have trickled down into other government agencies. For example, when Julius Genachowski took the reins of the FCC, it didn’t take him long to get the social media religion in the form of blogging, video interviews, etc. BTW, clever twist of words by the FCC to name its blog “BLOGBAND.”

But what really holds the President’s communications effort together comes back to the person and his extraordinary gift for storytelling. I addressed this topic last November in the post “Obama’s Infomercial Offers Lesson in Storytelling.”

The President knows how to connect with the average person.

That’s why you see him on ESPN rationalizing his picks for March Madness. That’s why there’s a Bud Light at his elbow when he’s refereeing the incident between Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and James Crowley on the White House patio.

On the storytelling front, he gets the basic dynamic that people care about people (tempted to cue up the Barbara Streisand song “People”). That’s why his narrative, regardless of the issue, consistently blends in vignettes about people.

His op-ed on healthcare reform in the New York Times provides a perfect example. He sets the stage in the first graph and then humanizes the issue:

“These are people like Lori Hitchcock, whom I met in New Hampshire last week. Lori is currently self-employed and trying to start a business, but because she has hepatitis C, she cannot find an insurance company that will cover her…”

It’s a good lesson for executives and especially those in the technology sector who can become obsessed with technical achievement.

The real power of invention lies on each side of the equation:

The people doing the inventing and how the invention impacts people.

Note: The idea for this post was triggered by Frank Zeccola and his Bulldog Reporter story “Is Obama the Rhetoric President?

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3 comments

3 Comments so far

  1. Dorothy Crenshaw November 3rd, 2009 4:33 pm

    Great analysis, Lou. But, regarding the White House’s taking on Fox News, I have a slightly different POV. It seems like an attempt to woo Independent voters by marginalizing the Republican party, in aligning it with the extreme “mad men” on Fox. It’s counterintuitive, but it could pay off. More at http://www.primpressions.com

  2. Dorothy Crenshaw November 3rd, 2009 4:35 pm

    Actually, for the exact post, it’s http://bit.ly/45OSic That will save you scrolling. Best,

  3. Lou Hoffman November 3rd, 2009 5:03 pm

    Dorothy,

    Thanks for weighing in.

    I never looked at this way but suspect that you’re right (and I was off course).

    This would explain why an administration that seems so together from a communications standpoint would all of the sudden say “charge” and take on Fox with a full frontal attack.

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