Public Relations: Finding “The Great Communicator” through US Presidencies

Which one of these former US Presidents do you believe has held the title of “The Great Communicator” by the press? Would that be Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, or Barrack Obama?

As a matter of fact, none of them. Even though some of them had been very charismatic communicators, they never managed to de-throne the true “Great Communicator” for a variety of reasons. Here are the reasons why:

Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, had been one of the most charismatic, tactful, and knowledgeable presidents of the United States, when it came to matters of international politics and managing the media. However, all anyone can remember about his presidency, is that he had committed the number one sin when it comes to public relations. That sin was lying. He lied about his affair with an intern, which led to his impeachment. Once caught lying, your credibility, image and reputation are tarnished indefinitely.

George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States, was by far not a communicator. He was uncomfortable in dealing with the press, and the only time he ever connected with an audience, was right after the 9/11 attacks, where in one of the best speeches ever delivered by a US President, he united a whole nation. However, his quick remarks, rushed decisions and declarations of victory over Iraq, whist it was still an active zone, all led to his discredit and damaging his credibility with the press.

Barrack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, undoubtedly changed the way public relations and opinions were formed. He revolutionized how the White House, and President reach out to audiences, through social media, podcasts, videos, and all other forms of technology. It did however come to a point, where this was overwhelming, as he would be shown/featured constantly everywhere. There was a saying at the time amongst press and the public, that it was “It’s all Obama, all the time”, meaning that the once loveable figure, now became too much.

“The Great Communicator” was the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. Now how he managed to be labelled as such, was simple. He had a plan in mind when dealing with the media, a strategic approach of seven principles which enabled him to communicate the right way, in most cases. Here is the Public Relations plan as outlined by Ronald Reagan’s team of communication advisors:

Plan Ahead: When addressing a situation, his team of communication advisors wouldn’t stick to replying, but rather also outline next steps to follow, to show that they are ahead of the problem.

Stay on the Offensive: This doesn’t mean to be offensive to the press, but rather get ahead of situations, rather than wait situations to find you.

Control the flow of information: The White House was under strict control in terms of what goes out towards the press

Limit Reporters’ access to the President: To be invited to be part of a press conference where the President would be, was something like a prize that had to be earned, and a privillege that (as a reporter) you wouldn’t want to lose.

Talk about the issues you want to talk about: The agenda always consisted of issues and topics that would always elevate, or show the Presidency in a strong/er position

Speak in One Voice: All communications from the PR specialists of the White House, where consistent, as if they were carried out in one voice.

Repeat the same message many times: This was a key principle and one that is still used in Public Relations today. Keep repeating the same message, until it gets embedded in the audiences’ minds

With the use of technology, and changing times, one can challenge the above seven principles. The key point through this blog, is to understand that in Public Relations, a solid strategy can go a long way in securing long lasting relationships. Now it is up to the environment, the organization, and nature of the media (and public) to find out what those steps would be. Looking at the how others have successfully been able to shape public opinion through effective use of Public Relations, is the foundation to which we can begin to evaluate, conceptualize and create our own Public Relations strategy and direction.

I hope you have found this blog post helpful! Don’t forget to like and comment below


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