In the investing world, there’s a simple mantra that many people live by: Watch what they do, not what they say. My company tracks stock purchases and sales by executives and board members. If an executive publicly complains about his company’s stock price, owns only a nominal amount of stock, and then doesn’t buy shares, we’re dismissive of his pleas to the market to recognize what he perceives to be the true value of his company. We don’t care what the executive says; we just care what he does.
President Barack Obama, no doubt, understands this concept. He came into office on Tuesday with an enormous challenge and the weight of high expectations. The President has tried to tamp down expectations with blunt words and the acknowledgment that he alone can’t fix the nation’s problems. If nothing else, this was a shrewd public relations move.
The first 100 days of a new administration are always under the media’s magnifying glass, so it will be interesting to see what exactly the Obama administration accomplishes. Reversing old policies and instituting new ones is a start, but with the economy the country’s major challenge, concrete evidence of significant change may be hard to come by. It takes time to stem job losses, create jobs, and firm up the financial ecosystem; doing so in 100 days is an impossible task.
In the meantime, public relations professionals should closely monitor how the administration deals with the media and connects actions with campaign promises. The media will undoubtedly be kinder to President Obama than they were to his predecessor, but members of the media can change their tune quickly, especially if they perceive a lack of action. The media, and by extension the people, want timelines for change. How the new administration articulates these timelines — and whether action quickly follows — will shape how the media cover the administration.
Timelines often cause problems for companies, especially start-ups that rack up early publicity because of innovative ideas or interesting team members. I’ve seen hundreds of companies go out strong in the media saying they will accomplish a milestone by a certain date only to miss the magic date. The good publicity then turns into bad publicity because straying from the timeline is perceived as a failure.
In the absence of a concrete timeline or launch date, it’s always best to play coy. Instead of saying, “We will launch on April 1st,” say, “The goal is to launch on April 1st, but we realize that there are factors outside of our control.” Believe me, it will go over much better when April 1st arrives and the launch does not materialize. Once, I made the mistake of setting a launch date for a web site; after I missed that launch date, members of the media, who had planned on covering the launch, were no longer interested.
Public relations is about communication, about concepts relayed via words. However, it’s the actions taken to back up those words that are actually meaningful. The media and the populace are good at connecting the dots, and if you can’t back up your words consistently, your actions will ultimately be fruitless.
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.