Three Reminders About PR We Got from the SOTU

Anderson Cooper called it, “A momentous night.” Another reporter called it, “A moment in history.” While another said it would solidify a legacy. Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address as President of the United States. An hour before the 9 PM speech was set to begin, pre-SOTU coverage was dominated by breaking news that nearly overshadowed the historic moment. Ten U.S. soldiers–nine men and one woman–taken into Iranian custody.

You could hear the collective gasp made by PR pros everywhere. An American crisis underway as the President set out to declare the state of the union. It certainly made the PR in me cringe.

Here are the three key things that last night’s SOTU reminded us about PR:

Anything can happen. Even at an event as meticulously planned and tightly scripted as an American State of the Union address; the news cycle has mercy on no one. Not even the ruler of the free world. Thus, all your hard work in fine tuning a bullet proof communications plan can be altered the instant there is breaking news to be told.

Be ready–always–to pivot. The ability to make critical communications decisions on a moment’s notice can’t be stressed enough. To mention it or not to mention it was the decision facing Obama’s camp just before last night’s SOTU speech. Because of the breaking news, White House communications staff had to make a last minute call whether to inject new remarks into the President’s address. Moments before, news media were informed that Mr. President would not talk about the situation in Iran (feeling the issue was under control). They stuck to that plan and the President gave his speech as originally planned.

Clearly communicate status updates. As best as possible, inform stakeholders and media of crisis status and any changes to the original schedule of events. Communications staff quickly alerted media that the President would proceed with his speech without any new additions.

Clearly the situation in Iran is not something a presidential communications staff wants to deal with just minutes before the capstone speech of an eight year long presidency. Kudos to the team for responding quickly and proactively keeping the public informed.

What were your thoughts on the SOTU? Do you think it was the right choice to leave the President’s speech as is, without addressing U.S. soldiers being detained in Iran? Tell me what you think.

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