Friday, June 18, 2010


This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

“Give the people what they want” says the old show business adage. Being President of the United States during the worst environmental disaster in the country’s history is no vaudeville act, but nonetheless, Barack Obama had to leave his audience satisfied with his first national address from the Oval Office this week. First, a few style points regarding his speech about the spill in the gulf. I couldn’t help but note Obama’s militaristic framing of the effort to contain the spill, referring to the “battle plan” and that more environmental damage will come “before this siege is done.” Perhaps he’s hoping for a bit of a “wartime President” bump in the polls amid the disaster, like his predecessor got in the days following 9/11? And what’s the deal with the hand gestures? Gotta dial that back when sitting behind the desk in a tight head-and-shoulders camera shot. On more substantive points, Obama did a solid job on the three crisis communications fundamentals: what happened, what are you doing about it, and what are you doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again? He had a good raft of specific “proof points” to offer, and with respect to the “ass kicking” he talked about in a TV interview last week, Obama made clear that BP would be made to pay (into a compensation fund overseen by an independent third party) and that the Minerals Management Service would be overhauled and replaced by a new agency that would be “the oil industry’s watchdog, not its partner.” Obama was also careful to make clear that he understood the impact of the spill on the people of the gulf coast region. Empathy with those affected must be central to any crisis communications effort. And he didn’t hesitate to use the issue to reiterate and accelerate his commitment to clean energy investments, getting downright JFKesque about it: “Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America’s innovation and seize control of our own destiny,” he said, framing the challenge as not unlike those of World War II and the space race. In all, Obama struck the right notes and gave the right assurances – right down to pledging that 90 per cent of the oil leaking from the well should be getting captured within the “coming weeks and days.” A gutsy move, and a target that had better be reached – or else Obama will own the unfulfilled promise.

No comments: