PR Advice to the President for his Speech to the Nation Tonight.

He better not be his normal self.

Please Don’t Be Your Normal Self.


One basic tenet of PR advice is: don’t create expectations you cannot meet. By announcing that he would speak to the nation tonight, President Obama created expectations – not just that he would give a speech but that the speech would have some real substance to command the nation’s attention and support. If Obama delivers some broad preaching about tolerance and patience and deliberate actions (all of which are legit) and nothing else, he is going to fall far short of expectations.

So, here is my gratuitous PR advice to the President for his speech tonight:

  1. At all costs, stop being pedantic.

The U.S. wants a leader in chief – a commander in chief — a visionary in chief. Nobody wants a lecturer in chief. If you go on TV tonight and try to tell the American population how to behave and what to think and why we need to be deliberate and all that other lead from behind stuff, you will have a very difficult time trying to be an effective president for the rest of your term.

  1. Lead.

Does that need any elaboration? Nobody wants to hear about how you are going to have the U.S. be just another part of another coalition that really never comes together and produces no real effects. For better or worse, the U.S. has a world role that is far beyond being “another coalition member.” Assume that role. Lead. Articulate an aspirational, achievable vision.

  1. Be mad!

The people of this nation are mad and worried. The people of Paris are the same. So are the people of London, Brussels … name it. You can no longer be cool, aloof, arrogant. It is time for you to evidence that you have similar feelings. This war isn’t about a strategy that is developed and discussed in an academic setting where a cold analysis is appropriate. Yes … we have to be cold and analytical. But the President of the U.S. also needs to show he has the same emotions as the people who watched San Bernardino and Paris unfold real time in front of their eyes. It’s time to show that you are mad at ISIS. Not theoretically mad. Real mad.

  1. It’s time for Plain English and stark statements.

Your speech will be analyzed word-by-word. You know who cares about such an analysis? The people who do them! The American public who will be watching your speech tonight aren’t going to debate the meaning of any particular words when you complete your speech tonight. They are going to react with a visceral reaction. Sure, there will be an intellectual reaction but their emotional reaction will prove to be much more important. You’ve been brilliant in producing such emotions when you have presided at funerals for American victims of violence. Whoever helped you write those speeches … whatever drove you to craft your sentiments … the emotions you allowed to swell-up inside of you – THOSE! USE THOSE! Your greatest strength is your oratory abilities. It led you to the presidency. Turn to that strength now.

5.  Get real about social networks and the war of ideas.

This war will not be won nor will success be measured by body bags and territory controlled.  It is a war of ideas and concepts and loyalties — a point I have made before.  So far, ISIS is clobbering us in that front.  Stop being so naive about the difference of this war and all previous wars.  Start a major campaign using social media, and all the modern tools of communications.

Now that you have created expectations by scheduling your speech to the nation, you better deliver on those implied expectations. If you don’t, it will be your biggest failure yet and you … our nation … and our world will suffer major consequences.

About Doug Poretz: After a four+ decade long career crafting public relations and communications strategies at the C-suite level, Doug now works with a limited number of clients, helping them rethink and improve their approach to how they communicate. For more about me, click here. For how I work with clients, click here. And for my numerous previous blog posts, click here. You can sign up for alerts about forthcoming posts by completing an easy form at my blog.

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