It is no secret that President Obama is taking some heat lately. With his full first year just behind him, there are several roadblocks he must overcome, and overcome quickly before his disenchantment completely wears off. A new national poll shows that three out of four Americans think that at least half of the money spent in the federal stimulus plan has been wasted; his party just lost a senate seat in one of the bluest of states; his major domestic policy reform, healthcare, is at a stalemate (or as one Huffingtonpost writer calls it, “a carcass”). The turmoil that the President is encountering reminds me of a couple simple but vital public relations rules that anyone – especially politicians – must closely follow.
Act with integrity. Do what you say you will do. Walk your talk. Generally stakeholders and constituencies like to believe that when they vote for a person they are voting for a platform, a platform they believe will pan out post election. President Obama has strayed from this vital pillar of integrity. If you say you will produce change, produce change. If you say you will end the war and bring troops home, don’t send thousands more. If you say you will fight the banks, do so, don’t offer them an easy ticket out. If you say you will end U.S. torture of imprisoned suspects, end it. I think that Obama has time to restore his integrity and realign his actions with his previous vocal premium on change. There are things the people will forgive – affairs, scandals and even failure – but lost integrity is one thing that is hard to rebound from.
Stay consistent. Now this is similar to integrity. While I understand that different constituencies require different strategies (public relations is certainly not a one message, one strategy game), the problem arises when the messages and promises sent to different stakeholders are directly contradictory. The American Prospect Co-Founder and Co-Editor Robert Kuttner writes in the Huffington Post that a debate is ranging inside the White House as to whether or not Obama needs to be more conciliatory, feisty, progressive or centrist. With many options on the table for “re-branding” himself for his second year, the President needs to be careful as to which brand he picks, and then must follow through in embracing it. The worst strategy, Kuttner says, would be for Obama to be a populist on Mondays and Wednesdays, and a conciliator on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
While consistency and integrity may seem like no brainers, especially for such a pillar of leadership as say the President of the United States, these two simple qualities, any public relations practitioner will tell you, become issues in relationship management more often than you would think.