Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Learning from Political Communications

Recently I started reading On Bended Knee: The press and the Reagan presidency by Mark Hertsgaard. After having this book for more than 8 years I decided it was time to crack it open last week while taking some R&R.

Although not finished yet, I wanted to share some interesting ideas that I think B2B marketers should consider…

Larry Speaks had a small sign on his desk throughout his tenure as White House deputy press secretary that read: "You don’t tell us how to stage the news, we won’t tell you how to cover it."

Hertsgaard describes how the men who managed President Ronald Reagan’s public presentation understood that the media were like lions.

"Like lions in a circus show, the press could be tamed rather more easily than outsiders might think, for there was part of them inclined toward obedience from the start. On the other hand, they only had to pounce once in the space of four years to leave their master bloodied if not buried. So the lion tamer had to approach his task with a delicate blend of wariness and self-confidence, exhibiting not only a willingness to crack the whip but also a polite respect for an adversary who was quite capable of tearing his head off."

Unlike previous administrations, the Reagan White House came to the conclusion that the media will take what they feed them providing they were being feed often. This approach is called “manipulation by inundation” by Hertsgaard. Leslie Janka, who worked as deputy press secretary for foreign affairs under President Reagan said,

"You give them the line of the day, you give them press briefings, you give them facts, access to people who will speak on the record….And you do that long enough, they’re going to stop bringing their own stories, and stop being investigative reporters of any kind, even modestly so."

One final nugget is the approach that Reagan’s team took to setting the terms of the national debate. It was by applying the basic news management principals:

  • Plan ahead
  • Stay on the offensive
  • Control the flow of information
  • Limit reporters’ access to the President
  • Talk about the issues you want to talk about
  • Speak in one voice
  • Repeat the same message many times

I just felt all this was good “food for thought”…and thoughts that B2B marketers could consider when working with the media. I am not saying these are the right approaches to take with the media, but they are valid and could help when seeking to construct a media attack plan.

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