When Obama Meets the Press

This month’s Vanity Fair includes a Michael Wolff feature on the Obama administration’s press strategy.  A lot has been said about what marketers can learn from Obama, but this article seems particularly relevant to the business of PR and media relations.

Mr. Wolff examines press secretary Robert Gibbs’ unwavering media strategy, providing clear examples of how his approach differs from his predecessors – Gibbs doesn’t boast about the strategy, he’s still inclusive of the pre-election community he built, and he is extraordinarily meticulous in his execution of the details. 

What can marketers – specifically those building media relations programs – learn from Gibbs?  Here’s a quick hit list:

  • Embrace the community: The Obama press team consistently communicates with its peer-to-peer contribution network through emails, videos, Twitter streams, etc.  Build a strong community of end-users and nurture those relationships.  Don’t speak at them through a variety of “channels,” instead, engage directly, and communicate openly and regularly.

  • Level the playing field: Gibbs understands that the balance of power has shifted in his favor.  He’s aware that the media needs him more than he may need them.  However, he continues to hold the daily press briefing and feed the information stream from the White House to the public through the major dailies and broadcast outlets.  While he may not be as forthcoming as the media would ultimately like, he is avoiding the dreaded “no comment” that too often leads to rumors of deception or scandal.  Keep at least one line open at all times.
  • Tailor your message: As Wolff puts it, the Obama’s have the “most finely calibrated press operation in White House history, parceling out scoops (The New York Times), partisan talking points (the Huffington Post), and First Family tidbits (the celebrity mags).”  Brand ambassadors can take a similar approach by segmenting their target audience by demographic qualities, product use scenarios or other unique attributes.  Do you have a product that deserves equal air time in Men’s Journal and the Wall Street Journal?  Then you need a unique message for each outlet.

President Obama undoubtedly has an unparalleled following, and his ability to reach this increasingly diverse audience is one that marketers will be dissecting and replicating for years to come.  With the media industry in a state of flux – undergoing its most dramatic makeover in decades – the Obamas remain an inspiration to brand marketers.

Now is not the time to throw in the towel on traditional media relations and chase the shiny new social media tools.  Now is the time to perfect the tried and true and embrace the new with a smart approach.  The strategies outlined above have been pillars in PR for longer than Mr. Obama has been alive and they’ll continue to define not just media, but human relations in every administration to come.

- Contributed by Gretchen Bender.  Follow her @gbender26