Case histories will be written and studied for years on how the Obama White House has found new tools and tactics for connecting at the local level, while marginalizing major national media.
As covered in Politico in a piece called “Obama the puppet master,” the Obama White House has developed its own content creation machine to feed all channels of communication with tightly crafted messages that build the Obama brand. It chooses the channels with surgical precision. Why interview with The New York Times beat reporter who knows the issues and risk facing tough questions, Politico notes, when one can dominate local media through strategically scheduled interviews with friendly anchormen and women who may not be up on the issues? The cumulative effect can be bigger than scoring a national media hit, as covered in depth by Politico.
The orchestration of coverage of potential economic Armageddon from the automatic budget cuts scheduled for March 1 (called Sequester) is the latest and most complex example of a local-national strategy. From the Secretary of Transportation setting the stage with future delays at major airports because of fewer air traffic controllers, to interviews in local markets with data on the anticipated loss of jobs (e.g. underway Feb. 26 in military towns in Virginia), the PR efforts are carrying consistent messages carefully chosen to appeal to each audience. How does it work?
Politico and a follow up piece by the Poynter Organization (“The dangerous delusions of the White House press corps and the president”) provided details. To summarize the key elements of the Obama White House approach and one that can work for brands, organizations, political candidates, new product introductions, crisis PR and other PR campaigns:
- Develop a comprehensive, cohesive message strategy with consistent themes and supporting evidence;
- Be precise in targeting and masterful in scheduling and orchestrating the individual parts of the program;
- Go for local issues, with local examples;
- The White House (or any brand) becomes the ultimate publisher (print, broadcast, photography, video, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube and more);
- Every appearance or event needs to support the brand, to include great photo opportunities with locals for driving local coverage;
- Control the content and flow through all channels by picking the media carefully;
- Stage events to focus on the big messages and memorable lines and don’t allow time at the end for random media questions that might delve into negative territory and take the candidate, CEO or other luminary off-message;
- Go for easy wins at the local level, then build regionally;
- Ignore the major media unless they are friendly;
- Produce your own photography and video rather than allow media coverage (local outlets are always looking for free content);
- Shun those who have produced or written anything that would be considered negative;
- Pound away at key messages through major pieces with the friendly media and TV personalities and support with social barrages to hit every target relentlessly;
- Use the classic “weekend document dump” to avoid negative coverage and “minimize attention to embarrassing or messy facts”;
- And orchestrate all the elements to ramp up for strategically and with surgical precision for maximum impact at a pre-designated date, such as an election or the day before the so-called fiscal cliff.
The latter – strategic planning of all elements for total control – represents the biggest challenge. Many organizations, brands and individuals can master parts of integrated campaigns. Few would have the budget, the talent, the discipline and the power even close to that of the Obama White House to succeed on all fronts.
The bottom line, according to Politico:
“With more technology, and fewer resources at many media companies, the balance of power between the White House and press has tipped unmistakably toward the government. This is an arguably dangerous development, and one that the Obama White House — fluent in digital media and no fan of the mainstream press — has exploited cleverly and ruthlessly.”