Posts tagged with "obama"

The danger of too-rapid response

Posted by Michael Heenan   on July 23, 2010, 9:08 am


Communications strategists love to talk about "rapid response" as a way to quell unpleasant news and get their clients back in control of the message and debate. But we've seen this week that there is such a thing as a too-rapid response. 

Regardless of which political filter you apply to the Shirley Sherrod story, it seems clear that White House staff enjoyed a brief moment of believing they had applied the art of rapid response to great success.  As we all know now, that response was based on incomplete information and made a bad situation far, far worse.

Here's Ben Smith on Politico discussing an alleged celebration as the story was still unfolding:

It's quite against the fashion in communications circles, but each year I become a bigger believer in the tactic of taking a deep breath and giving the ground a moment to stop shaking before plunging into action.  There are times when you can't afford do this, but not as many as your consultant will lead you to believe.

After all, your communications team is getting paid to communicate... waiting and seeing might be the right move, but that doesn't look as good on an invoice.

In the face of a looming crisis, everything suggest the need for action.  Get out there with your message.  Hold a press conference.  Issue a statement.  Fire somebody. Fight back fast. But when these tactics are employed with incomplete information, it's like fighting in the dark. There's a good chance most of the damage you inflict will be on yourself.

Tags: crisis communications, obama, shirley sherrod, strategic communications

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Blame Britain policy not as simple as it seems

Posted by Michael Heenan   on June 11, 2010, 10:42 am


It must have seemed like a simple equation.

The public was getting angry at the Obama Administration's apparent inability to have any impact whatsoever on the still-raging oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Worse, Obama's renowned calm demeanor seemed to be signaling a casual attitude toward the tragedy.

So, it was time for the Anger Show.  Suddenly, we were getting daily sound bites about how furious Obama is.  About how he'd fire the BP CEO if he could.  About figuring out "whose ass to kick."  It ranged from scripted to unseemly, but never seemed to hit whatever mark was being sought.

In ordinary circumstances, a politician can't go wrong attacking a company, particularly an oil or energy company.  More than a few Sacramento careers were enhanced by fact-free bashing of Texas energy companies during the state's energy crisis a decade ago.

But this time it's more complicated.  After a week of attacks on BP's integrity and share price, our allies across the Atlantic are getting irked.  With pension funds there heavily invested in the company once known as British Petroleum, UK politicians are firing back at what they see as scapegoating and piling on.

Here's a snippet from former Trade Minister Lord Norman Tebbitt (courtesy of

The whole might of American wealth and technology is displayed as utterly unable to deal with the disastrous spill -- so what more natural than a crude, bigoted, xenophobic display of partisan political presidential petulance against a multinational company?"

With a new prime minister on Downing Street and growing unrest over the UK role in Afghanistan, this can't be dismissed as just talk.  Every political or communications move in a time of crisis comes at a price, and sometimes that price isn't apparent until it's too late.

Tags: bp, crisis communications, obama, oil spill

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White House's no-win strategy on BP

Posted by Michael Heenan   on May 27, 2010, 11:24 am


I've never shot fish in a barrel, but I've heard it's easy.  Still, it' can't be easier than second-guessing a company or politician in the wake of a PR crisis.  So, I'm not going to join the ranks of PR types telling BP what they should have done. Most of the advice is pretty obvious and very little of it is informed in any meaningful way by what was really going on among decision makers.

I will, though, take a moment to marvel at the mess that washed up on the shores of the White House's communications office.  With oil still gushing into the Gulf nearly 40 days after the well burst, the Obama Administration was taking serious heat over its reluctance -- maybe refusal -- to put itself in charge of the attempt to cap the well and stop the epic spill. 

Today, either because the "top kill" maneuver seems to have worked or because poll numbers reached a chilling tipping point, the president was "moving aggressively" to make it clear that the federal government was in charge all along.  Never mind what Administration representatives said as recently as Monday about BP running things and the feds more or less overseeing it.

It had to have been a miserable choice for the White House.  Do you "take charge" of a disaster that's still unfolding, knowing that you'll be the ones asked why the TV shows oil still gushing into the Gulf?  Or do you let BP take that heat while you watch the public get increasingly upset over your lack of action?

The White House seems have chosen "both."  With this retroactive "we were in charge" declaration, they get a share of the blame for the disaster's long life, something they tried to avoid for more than a month.  And yet, they are unlikely to avoid criticism that they weren't in charge at all.

It's like dropping your cake and eating it too.

Tags: bp, crisis communications, obama, oil spill

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