Last month it was President Obama’s birth certificate. Now it’s a photo of Osama with a bullet through his head.
When will this administration learn? In an online, always plugged in world, where citizens are armed with camera phones and text is a verb and where their scoop can be posted in a nanosecond, news cannot be withheld.
Likewise, from a PR perspective, it’s ever more difficult to control news.
Once it’s out (and it will get out) you can’t submerge it because it will rise to the surface faster than a BP tar ball.
Yet what an administration, a corporation or any organization can do is stay out in front of a news story before it snowballs into a gargantuan crisis.
The Obama administration has been far too slow to respond to a series of them; from legitimate world shaking events like the uprising and eventual crackdown in Iran to the now seemingly ridiculous kerfuffle, allowing Donald Trump to force the President of the United State’s hand into releasing his birth certificate.
In each case, the Obama administration has been reactive and not proactive in their communications. As a result, pressure from the news media gains traction while suspicion is spurred on by blogs, cable news and public skepticism builds until there’s an outcry with polls reflecting a downward dip in presidential approval eventually making them bow to pressure.
In his 1999 book, “Truth To Tell: Tell It Early, Tell It All, Tell It Yourself,” Special Counsel to President Clinton, Lanny Davis conveys what he said to Mr. Clinton about the Monica Lewinksy affair before it metastasized into a disaster, “Take your case to the American people, tell them everything, everything there is to tell.” He continues, “Withholding information is like a pressure cooker. If the heat gets too high, the story is going to blow.”
And this all happened before Facebook and Twitter.
But even with the realization of 21st century social media, the current US Administration keeps getting stuck in one crisis after another, due to a misunderstanding and misidentification of what all media has made the Office of President become – an office of crisis communications. As a result, mishandling of information and communications reflects poorly on the country and the overall damage done to our national brand is severe.
What the Office needs, is a not just a Press Secretary who reacts to issues but a Cabinet level post designed to effectively communicate the President’s position to the world. Indeed, established in Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, the Cabinet''s role is to advise the President on any subject he may require relating to the duties of each member''s respective office.
One role of that department would be a war room to immediately deal with a potential crisis that can sideline a White House for days, weeks and longer on an issue unworthy of the President’s time.
That same war room would lay out and imagine any and every crisis before it happens. Governments like businesses and high profile individuals need to recognize crisis communications is the same as a fire drill. When the alarm goes off, the people in the organization need to know what to do and where to go. It is not the time to wonder and ask, when the alarm sounds, “What do we do now?”
An advisory staff to leadership needs to play it out by asking what could go wrong in each and every country around the world that could become a crisis. Japan. Libya. Syria. Then play out every scenario imaginable and have a set game plan on what to do about it.
The speed at which information travels today necessitates an anticipatory approach to predicaments, so that minor jams don’t grow and slow down the real business that needs priority. The fix is in being proactive, transparent open and honest. That is the best and most effective way for the office of President to stay above the fray.