Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Obama “Lesson”

School days. School days. Good old golden rule days.

Well, the rules have changed. Now even things that don’t seem like a crisis indeed can turn into one. So get your Crisis Communications Plan prepared…even if it involves something that hasn’t been released yet...even something as innocent as kids being encouraged by the President of the U.S. to work hard and get good grades in schools--to take personal responsibility for their education because that is the foundation of our economy.

Word has it that the White House was blindsided by the fire storm over Obama giving a speech to the nation’s children. Accusations of spreading “socialist ideology,” encouraging “community activism” (what’s wrong with that?), and suggesting that “our republic is under attack” have been all over the media. Some actually advocated kids staying home from school to avoid the talk. And all of this happened before the speech was delivered, supposedly based on publicity suggesting that the president would ask kids at the end of the talk how each of them could help him achieve the goals cited in the speech. The latter has now been changed and clarified to asking children what their own educational goals should be (e.g., doing your homework nightly).

So this was a “pre-emptive” strike by Obama opponents, a point effectively made by David Carr of The New York Times on September 6. It was pre-emptive because no content had been made available. Carr says, “…the White House has opted for transparency, but when you decide to engage in the democratic process, you’d better be ready for some unintended consequences.”

All of this rage undoubtedly encouraged the White House to release the speech on Monday, the day before it was to be given, so that, hopefully, all who read it would see that it was nothing more than what Arne Duncan, U.S. Education Secretary said Sunday on the TV show, “Face the Nation”: “The [President’s] whole message is about personal responsibility and challenging students to take their education very, very seriously.”

With Congress approving a record $100 billion put into education, the President is striving for more high performing schools, better academic achievements from students, better teachers and textbooks, national standards, more kids going to college, and more graduating from high school. According to the Secretary, we have a drop-out rate of 30%, or 1.2 million students per year. “This is about global competitiveness…if you are dropping out of high school, there is nothing out there for you.” He noted that a recent international comparison of 15-year-olds’ math results had the U.S. ranked 31st in the world. So our President will be telling kids to stay in school.

As Carr points out, we are in a media environment, spurred by the internet but sustained by the starved mainstream media, that “prizes engagement and conflict” wherever it can be found and regardless of the validity of the charge. Whether one unknown person said it, a celebrity or a cast of thousands doesn’t really matter. It makes compelling copy. And the public might believe a charge has wide support, true or not.

Whether corporate or political, it doesn’t matter. When you do your Crisis Planning, bring your creative stars into the meeting, and come up with every idea possible. Look at everything in the universe that could be fodder for comment in your organization, innocent or not, and rank the vulnerability of each. Plan for trouble on every one of them and plan exactly how you will handle it, because being on the offense is the only defense in today’s world.

Technorati Tags: school, Crisis Communications, White House, President Obama, socialist ideology, education, business, Public Relations, Makovsky

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