Strategic Communication for an Administration-in-Transition

by Bud Goodall

The headlines from WatchAmerica show worldwide optimism and support for President-Elect Obama.  Yet, despite this large and welcoming window of public diplomacy opportunity, there are still 10 weeks to go before President Obama is sworn in and can officially represent America.  In the meantime, we have a world waiting to see if we have, in fact, something newer and better to offer under a new administration while the old and roundly discredited administration still commands media attention and wields whatever is left of its power.

What can Obama do?  What should he do?  From a strategic communication perspective it would be a serious mistake to let this moment pass.  Here are three strategies derived from a 21st Century Model of Communication that allow him to capitalize on this unique opportunity as a public diplomat before he assumes the office of the Presidency:

  1. Transfer his Internet success in the campaign to a strategic communication campaign to rebuild our image in the world:  Obama and his team constructed the most powerful political fundraising network in the history of US elections, and what that team learned about leveraging social networks, viral marketing, and the use of alternative news sources must be mined in a new effort to create and sustain the positive initial perceptions of the US via an Obama administration.
  2. Create one or two major disruptions in “business as usual” via bold strategic communication moves that capitalize on existing hopes for the US Foreign Policy: Steve Corman has opined on this subject and called for a “game-changer” that significantly shifts attention away from perceptions of the US as arrogant to one of humility.  Obama is perfectly situated to do that now.
  3. Move from “Yes We Can” to “Yes We Have”:  Launch a weekly press conference that updates us all on the fulfillment of campaign promises regarding the improvement of our image in the world and the steps he has taken to rebuild an effective diplomacy team.
These steps may be undertaken before he takes the oath of office on January 20th, and should continue to inform his strategic communication team afterward.  But my point today is that this is no time to ignore or postpone addressing the foreign and domestic concerns about his administration and their intentions.  Speaking as a prominent citizen–one just elected President–he has a platform that does not interfere with the conduct of government between now and January, but rather smoothes the way to it.

2 Responses to “Strategic Communication for an Administration-in-Transition”

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  1. drgilpin says:

    I agree completely with all of your suggestions, and that is why I was so excited to see that change.gov went live within about 24 hours of the election. I had been wondering how Obama was planning to continue to harness the power of the incredible communication machine he built during the election, and it seems he already had a program in place. The site gives him a convenient platform from which to address all of those concerns you mention.

    Although change.gov is set up for two-way communication by soliciting input from the public at large (in the form of personal stories, suggestions, etc.) it remains asymmetrical. I would like to see more symmetrical communication implemented, such as in the form of weekly YouTube “fireside chats” responding to citizen concerns submitted through the web site.

    I am also expecting to see some forms of strategic community building (“multi-way” communication). The real strength of Obama’s campaign organization resided in how it allowed people to take initiative locally and communicate with each other on- and offline. This is not only the kind of operation that gets candidates elected, but it also raises support for all kinds of initiatives–including the potentially unpopular kind that might be needed during times of crisis. I hope Obama and his staff are planning to take full advantage of this opportunity to stimulate grassroots action, in much the way they did during the campaign.

  2. drgilpin says:

    Following up on my previous comment, I must say I was very pleased to see the new change.gov feature, Join the Discussion. Currently, citizens are being asked to provide input on healthcare, but presumably more topics will be added in the future. While not quite as user-driven as a traditional discussion forum, that’s probably for the best: a little topical guidance helps keep the site focused on government and current public issues. However, it does mean that the administraton-elect maintains control over which issues are addressed, rather than allowing citizens/users to set the agenda.

    From what I’ve seen (although I confess I haven’t read all 1635 comments currently posted), the general level of discourse is fairly high. The site is obviously moderated, which is only logical, but there are also a number of dissenting comments. It will be interesting to see how this feature evolves in use, both by the administration (particularly after Obama takes office) and by commenters.