Tomorrow night President Obama will address the nation regarding the BP oil spill. Combating criticism that his administration was slow to respond properly, Obama is anticipated to make the case for more aggressive government action toward BP.
Aside from the political consequences pre and post-spill, what are some public relations considerations to keep in mind?
• Location, location, location. This is the first national speech that Obama will deliver from the Oval Office. The symbolism certainly isn’t lost in the moment, as White House advisors rightly recognize that the nation’s greatest environmental disaster ever ranks up there among the worst crises in American history. Obama is using the Oval Office imprimatur to convey the strength and seriousness of his response to date, and his plans going forward.
• Tell us what’s up. There are so many moving parts now – BP, possible receivership, fines, Halliburton, Transocean, MMS mismanagement, leak estimates, hurricanes – that it’s easy to get lost past the simple narrative of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. Obama must explain clearly and concisely what his administration has learned, and in a way that helps Americans make sense of who may be responsible for the oil spill.
• Leverage into other issues. Don’t forget that Obama’s plan, no matter what form it takes, is still essentially politics. Just as the Bush Administration based a significant political agenda on the aftermath of September 11, expect Obama to lay out future political principles. Strong bet that the need to lessen national dependence on oil will be top of mind, as will regulation of exploration and other relevant energy and environmental issues.
• Deadlines. To shift the focus away from the number of days into the crisis, Obama will likely give hard deadlines for relevant stakeholders to meet, whether that concerns clean up or regulatory action. To save his political fortunes, Obama must shift the PR narrative away from mismanagement and toward total control.
And that’s just tomorrow night. These types of efforts require weeks of follow up to sustain any positive traction, so keep an eye on administration officials as they’re dispatched to keep the message momentum going.