What U.S. Presidents Have Taught us about PR and Reputation Management

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Since before I can remember, I have been a fan of history. So it should come as no surprise that I learned my first lessons about public relations and reputation management from my U.S. history textbooks, and more specifically, from our former presidents. Even though some of these leaders lived long before the days of Twitter and iPhones, they still had recommendations that can be applied to brands and individuals in the 21st century. So for any of you who have ever questioned a history major as to why he or she entered into communications, here is a look at what the past taught me about my future career:

1. “It is better to be alone than in bad company.” – George Washington, 1st President of the United States (1789–1797)

George Washington had the tough task of defining the role of “President of the United States,” but it helped that he was no stranger to the importance of public image. He recognized the company you keep is a direct reflection of you as an individual which is something many brands are dealing with today, especially with the pressure of social media and real-time sharing.

Recently, actor James Franco was called out for allegedly flirting with an underage girl through his Instagram account. His explanation focused on the fact that his “fan base” was in her age group, and it wasn’t his intention to be inappropriate. James, take a lesson from George and next time think long and hard about the company you are keeping and what type of interactions you are having with them.

2. “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” – Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States (1801–1809)

Although some historians argue Thomas Jefferson would not win the award for the “Most Honest President,” he was on the mark with this quote. In this day and age, transparency is key. As a communications professional, it is our job to help our clients find the best approach–which should always focus around honest marketing. A perfect example of this took place in 2011 when BlackBerry experienced a worldwide shortage. Research in Motion (RIMM) founder and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis did not hide behind the safety of his corporate office. Instead, he issued one of the most heartfelt and public apologies that a CEO ever has. He famously stated, “I apologize for the service outages this week. We let many of you down. Let me assure you that we are working around the clock to fix this. You expect better from us and I expect better from us. It’s too soon to say that this issue is fully resolved but let me give you more detail to what is happening.” It seems as though Lazaridis took a page out of Jefferson’s book, and it was the right page at that.

3. Absolute identity with one’s cause is the first and great condition of successful leadership.” – Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States (1913 to 1921)

As a communications professional, our main goal is to help our clients successfully achieve their goal. And one of the best ways we can help them achieve success is by truly understanding their business and developing a passion for what they do. This devotion will translate in our pitches to the media and the public, and will help us become better communicators.

4. “There are as many opinions as there are experts.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States (1933 – 1945)

With the proliferation of easy access to technology, anyone can be considered an expert and have an opinion on a subject. The important thing to identify is what you can bring to the table in terms of a new angle or approach as well as experience and credentials. As a communications professional, it is our job to help find the hook that can translate an idea into an exciting news opportunity that benefits the media and our clients. Franklin Roosevelt knew how important it was to set ourselves apart from others, and we can all learn something from his actions and wise words.

Of course, this is only a fraction of what our Presidents have taught us about communications, but it does go to show that some of history’s words of wisdom As John F. Kennedy,  35th President of the United States (1961-1963) once said, “The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth.” As public relations professionals, it is our job to continue to educate ourselves, whether it is through attending a communications seminar or picking up a history book!

Kate is a Senior Account Manager & Social Media Strategist at Media & Communications Strategies

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  • ShellyKramer

    What I liked most about this Kate, is that you actually did the homework here and used quotes and salient examples that you had to research. It would’ve been easier to pull examples from more recent years — and the fact that you didn’t impressive :)

  • Kate Connors

    Thank you so much for the kind words Shelly!

  • Liz Finnegan

    Love the quote from FDR – applicable to almost everyone not just PR professionals (though of course, its particularly applicable in this field). Thank you!

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  • Kate Connors

    Thanks for reading Liz!!!

  • Lauren

    I thought this was a great way to get your information across about being honest and open in your public relations. Using people who had great PR that didn’t live in the time of social media is great. Do you have any suggestions on how we can use social media to our advantage of being honest and open since it is such a vital part of today’s public relations tactics? Thanks!