George Washington PR

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US Presidents and PR (1960-Present)

Two interesting ways that US presidents since 1960 have used public relations (PR) to change public opinion are motivational speechwriting and the application of new media platforms. Examples of presidents who have used these tactics include John F. Kennedy (JFK), Lyndon B. Johnson, and Barak Obama.

Motivational Speechwriting

  • The best motivational speeches present an air of authority and command their audience's attention. A motivational speech has the power to remain in the backs of people's minds for years to come and can elicit strong emotions.
  • According to the Daily Beast, "a large part of a president’s job is to be a rhetorical leader," and words have the power to both heal and destroy. Presidents like JFK and Obama are among the most frequently cited examples of what it means to use truly inspirational rhetoric.
  • One concrete example of a powerful speech delivered by JFK is his 1961 "Man on the Moon" speech. In it, JFK vowed that the US would put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. Many people — citizens and Congressmen alike — were skeptical.
  • The speech helped JFK secure between $7 billion and $9 billion in additional Congressional funding that would be dedicated to the development of America's space program. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon.
  • Another example of a president who used motivational speechwriting to sway public opinion is Johnson. Many consider his 1965 "We Shall Overcome" speech to be among the most important civil rights milestones in American history.
  • Johnson delivered the speech in response to the recent violence against civil rights demonstrators in Selma, Alabama known as "Bloody Sunday." He used the speech to present Congress with legislation that would ultimately be passed as the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Application of New Media Platforms

  • Politicians often use the media to influence their base. This becomes interesting when they manage to find new and innovative ways to use emerging media platforms to their advantage.
  • Beginning around the 1960s, television became a massively popular media platform and would be followed by such technological innovations as the internet, smartphones, and social media.
  • One notable example of a president leveraging a new media platform is JFK. During his televised debate with Richard Nixon in 1960, television was a relatively new medium. Though the debate drew over 70 million viewers, many people still listened to it on the radio.
  • JFK used television to his advantage, and his combined good looks and charisma successfully swayed public opinion. Most radio listeners felt that Nixon won the debate, while an overwhelming majority of television viewers sided with JFK.
  • Historians attribute two results to this televised debate: record-setting voter turnout and JFK's ultimate victory. He was both the youngest president voted into office and the first Roman Catholic.
  • Obama is considered the first president of the social media age, and social networking played an important role in his campaign strategy. He specifically targeted young Millennial voters during the 2008 election, who have the highest rate of social media consumption among all generations.
  • His campaign connected with voters on popular platforms like MySpace and Facebook. Obama was also frequently photographed interacting on social media via his Blackberry.
  • Obama had 2 million Facebook followers during the 2008 election, compared to John McCain's 600,000. He would go on to win the election with 66% of the Millennial vote and become America's first black president. Only 31% of Millennials voted for John McCain.

Research Strategy

We searched trusted media sources, academic journals, and historical archives to find two examples of interesting ways that US presidents since 1960 have used PR to change public opinion. The term "interesting" is subjective, and for the purposes of this research we defined it as the use of PR in a way that captivates, motivates, and ultimately changes audiences. To provide the most robust picture of each president mentioned in this report, we included two sources from 2008 that provide insight into Obama's campaign strategies during that election year.
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US Presidents and PR (1900-1959)

U.S. presidents from the 1900-1959 used public relations to influence Congress' vote and to rally people behind an issue. Below is an overview of the findings.

To Influence Congress' Vote

  • President Theodore Roosevelt (TR) used publicity as a tool to usher in social reforms at a time when Congress held much more power than the Presidency. He was the first President to "use the presidential junket to generate public support for his programs."
  • TR's strategies included the creation of the first-ever press office/department in the White House, leaking reports to the media, and holding regular official and unofficial press conferences. According to experts, TR invented the art of media spin.
  • TR's desires to implement reforms were curtailed by the purely-administrative nature of the Presidency at the time. Congress was the seat of policy making and it was not easy for TR to effect reforms given the strained relationship between Congress and the Executive.
  • Knowing that Congress could not vote against the popular opinion of the electorate, TR used public relations to form and shift public opinion to influence the vote in Congress. One such example is his 1906 reforms of the meatpacking sector.
  • TR's effort to regulate meatpacking and the entire food industry was resisted by the business-dominated Senate. He, therefore, "seized on a popular outcry triggered that spring" by an exposee named "The Jungle" written by Upton Beall Sinclair.
  • TR directed his allies in the press to conduct an independent investigation on the issue since he could not move forward with Sinclair's report alone. He then leaked parts of the findings of the independent investigation and threatened to leak more to pressure Congress into adopting his reforms. After a tactful strategy, Congress gave in and TR signed into law the "Pure Food and Drug bill" on June 30, 1906.

To Rally People Behind an Issue

  • Americans were reluctant when President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany in 1917 since most Americans were in support of Neutrality. It also put Wilson on the spot since he was reelected in 1916 through the slogan, "He kept us out of the war."
  • To convince Americans that it was in their best interests to join the war in Europe, Wilson formed the Committee on Public Information (CPI), which was headed by a former journalist called George Creel. The CPI was charged with convincing young and able Americans to enlist in the U.S. Army and the public to support the war.
  • While the CPI's was to "make the world safe for democracy," it elevated propaganda and press censorship to new heights. Through the CPI, Wilson "waged a campaign of intimidation and outright suppression against those ethnic and socialist papers that continued to oppose the war."
  • The CPI was organized into four divisions. The "Speaking Division" trained and recruited 75,000 “Four-Minute Men” who delivered "Wilson’s war aims in short speeches." The "Film Division produced newsreels intended to rally support by showing images in movie theaters that emphasized the heroism of the Allies and the barbarism of the Germans" and the "Foreign Language Newspaper Division" monitor all non-English newspapers in the U.S.
  • An additional CPI division bought advertisement space in major newspapers to promote pro-war campaigns and recruitment efforts. The "CPI proved quite effective in using advertising and PR to instill nationalistic feelings in Americans." It was able to rally Americans behind Wilson's decision to get involved in the World War.

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US Presidents and PR (1789-1899)

Two interesting ways that US presidents between 1789 and 1899 have used public relations (PR) to change public opinion are the use of newspaper publications and the power of committees. Some early presidents of the United States that leveraged some of these strategies include Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and William McKinley.

The Use of Newspaper Publication

  • In the 1789-1899 period, US presidents used newspapers to manage and change public opinion. Some presidents who have used the newspaper to influence public opinion are Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. Many leaders considered newspapers to be peers whose approval they coveted. Public officials have always relied heavily upon newspapers and other mass media to discover what people are thinking about.
  • Thomas Jefferson was the president of the United States between 1801 and 1809. Jefferson used newspapers like the Philadelphia Aurora, an organ of his party, to influence public opinion about him. He believed in newspapers' power because Americans made up their minds by reading the newspapers. Jefferson also recognized the importance of pamphlets, including ones written by James Calender.
  • Andrew Jackson was the US president between 1829-1837. Newspaper publications from Manhattan wrote about people across America cheering for Andrew Jackson. These publications influenced public opinions by explaining about people singing praises and appreciating him. Long before his presidential campaign, Andrew Jackson, through his friend known as Overton, assembled the powers of accomplished diplomats, community leaders, and "influential newspapermen" to propagate his image without dents and propel himself into the presidency.

The Power of Committees

  • One of the public relations strategies of the US early presidential period is using the power of the committee to manage their public image and public opinion. The committee consisted of distinct people often set up to manage public relations or public image.
  • President Andrew Johnson used a powerful committee whose reach extended beyond politics to include community leaders, accomplished diplomats, among other notable figures, to manage his public relations and influence his public image. He used their combined efforts to propel his way into the presidency.
  • William McKinley was the US president between 1897-1901. McKinley used the Bureau of Publications and Printing of the Republican National Committee, directed by Perry Heath, to influence public opinion by sending out news releases, canned editorials, and literature to the public. The committee handled all the US publication and distribution.
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Early US Presidents and PR

Some tactics used to manage public relations by people who were presidents in the United States between 1789 and 1900 include the use of newspaper publications, the use of committees on public relations, the use of frequent press briefings, the use of newsreels, and the management of information released about themselves. Some early presidents of the United States that leveraged some of these strategies include Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, and William McKinley.

Use of Committees on Public Relations

  • One of the tactics early presidents in the United States used to manage their public relations, or public image includes the use of committees on public relations. A public relations committee is a committee comprising distinct people often set up to manage public relations or public image.
  • One of the earliest examples of the use of "modern public relations on a grand scale" involved the use of a Committee on Public Information (CPI). One president of the United States that used the tactics is Woodrow Wilson.
  • Woodrow Wilson was the president of America between 1913 and 1921. Woodrow Wilson used a Committee on Public Information (CPI) chaired by George Creel, a former journalist, to persuade Americans to support his war efforts, which helped to "make the world safe for democracy." This strategy was "so successful" that the president continued using it to advance his policies even after the war ended.
  • The CPI went as far as training 75,000 men know as the "Four-Minute Men" who were sent to public venues like concert halls, movie theaters, and county fairs to present short speeches crafted to generate support for Woodrow Wilson's war efforts.
  • President Andrew Johnson also used a "powerful committee" made up of friends, community leaders, accomplished diplomats, among other notable figures to manage his public relations and influence his public image. He used their combined efforts to propel his way into the presidency.

Use of Newspaper Men, Pamphlets and News Publications

  • One of the tactics early United States presidents used to manage their public relations, or public image includes the use of newspaper publications. Some presidents of the United States that utilized this strategy include Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson. Andrew Jackson was the president of America between 1829 and 1837.
  • Newspapers refer to printed publications that have timely stories as well as stories that relate to a given subject or theme. Newspapermen include the owners, operators, or writers of newspapers, their editors, and reporters, among other employees.
  • Newspapers publications from Manhattan to Mobile as from Savannah to St. Louis wrote accounts of town squares across America filled with cheering crowds. These publications wrote about people singing praises and appreciating Andrew Jackson, a man they never had contact with, but seemed like their neighbor. The type someone trusted with his wife.
  • Long before he commenced his presidential campaign, Andrew Jackson, through his friend known as Overton, assembled and leveraged the powers of accomplished diplomats, community leaders, as well as "influential newspapermen" to propagate his image without dents and propel himself into the presidency.
  • To manage public relations during the period of war, President Woodrow Wilson used every strategy and means of communication, including United States newspaper "publications." This strategy made it easy for him to sell war bonds, promote patriotism, and recruit new soldiers.
  • Several newspapers attacked George Washington's image. To get an idea of how publications targeted his image, and as a media monitoring strategy, he kept his gaze "firmly planted in the newspapers" every day, reading them for the mentions he got from his political enemies.
  • Jefferson used newspapers like the Philadelphia Aurora, an organ of his party, edited by a printer known as William Duane to influence the opinion of the public about him. Jefferson also recognized the importance of pamphlets, including ones written by James Calender. Thomas Jefferson was the president of the United States between 1801 and 1809.

Use of Newsreels

  • One of the tactics early United States presidents used to manage their public relations, or public image includes the use of newsreels as a means of communication. President Woodrow Wilson is one of the presidents that used this strategy.
  • Newsreels are short movies that elaborate on events that occur around the time of their production.
  • Newsreels were among the communications and public relations strategies used by President Woodrow Wilson to sell war bonds, promote patriotism, and recruit new soldiers.

The Use of Friends

  • One of the tactics early United States presidents used to manage their public relations, or public image was the use of friends to monitor and influence public perception about them. One of the presidents that used this strategy is Andrew Jackson. Andrew Jackson used his oldest as well as his most enduring friend known as John Overton, along with several other friends from Tennessee to gauge and also influence public opinion about him.

Managing the Information Released About Themselves

  • Information management incorporates policies as well as procedures used to centrally handle and share information among various individuals, organizations, and systems throughout the life cycle of the information.
  • Early United States presidents strategically manage the information released about themselves as a way of managing their public image. One of the presidents that used this strategy is Andrew Jackson, who was the president of America between 1829 and 1837.
  • Andrew Jackson and his friends addressed some questions of character via a preemptive way by availing the public with a well "crafted story of his life." Andrew Jackson's biography was published in 1817 and became the model that several presidents used afterward.

Press Briefings and Reporters

  • President William McKinley allowed media reporters to work inside the White House on the second-floor corridor table. His secretary organized regular press briefings, which has remained a primary way of relating with the public by United States presidents to this day.

Research Strategy

The study examines the tactics used by early United States presidents to manage their public relations or public image. The research focused on presidents from 1789 to 1900, the period when there were no public relations "machines" or automated PR machines. Resources reviewed include Smartsheet, What It Means to Be American, among other credible resources. Smartsheet discussed public relations strategies practiced by early presidents of the United States, such as Woodrow Wilson. It also discussed some best practices, practical tips, as well as expert advice. There are a limited number of resources that discussed the tactics of several early presidents of the United States between 1789 and 1900. In some instances, the study has unearthed a plethora of resources that highlight tactics that were used by more than one president. Due to the long time-lapse between 1789 to 1900 and today, the study includes a few resources older than the usual 24-months credibility range.
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George Washington and the Press

Although President George Washington had an indefatigable commitment to the press and free speech, his time as president was significantly influenced by his acrimonious relationship with the media.

First Term

  • While President George Washington's challenged history with the press is well recognized by historical experts (e.g., President Truman, History.com, Mount Vernon, Pew Research Center), his initial relationship with the media upon assuming the presidency was one of mutual respect and admiration.
  • Notably, President Washington was a strong proponent of the press, and entered his first term declaring the importance of "freedom of speech" to protect Americans from the ill fate of the "dumb and silent."
  • In parallel, President Washington was covered in almost "universally glorified terms" by the nation's press at the time of his inauguration, according to Mount Vernon.
  • However, the president's first term from 1789 to 1792 saw an explosion in newspapers across the country, with the number of outlets rising from 50 in 1776 to over 250 by 1800, in response to federal regulation that made it more affordable to send newspapers throughout the country's postal system.
  • As a result, newspaper editors began taking a "stronger" as well as "newly aggressive" role in discussing the government, and their position towards President Washington's administration slowly soured.
  • The first major media attack against the president's administration by local press, according to Mount Vernon, Washington Papers and Infoplease, was a series of articles that accused President Washington's administration of having a "monarchical" style and functioning like a king.
  • Specifically, American media asserted that President Washington's implementation of formal European-style taxes and support of Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton's economic program amounted to "aristocratic"and dictatorial behavior.
  • Towards the end of President Washington's administration, such "hostile newspaper writers" expanded their criticisms to President Washington's larger domestic and foreign policies.
  • Notably, however, during the president's first term, his media critics "seemed reluctant" to directly criticize President Washington himself, and instead highlighted the "errors" of his administration and key staff.

Second Term

Washington's Response

  • Although President Washington never appeared to waver in his support of the press, his increasingly acrimonious relationship with American newspapers weighed heavily on the president and ultimately influenced his political career.
  • According to The Daily Beast, President Washington did not believe that he "could or should declare war" on the media, recognizing that such dissent and free speech was a critical component of democracy.
  • Moreover, despite his sometimes private outbursts over a recent media attack, historical experts (e.g., Infoplease, The Daily Beast) generally agree that the president was "notoriously self-monitoring" and took care to never display his anger in public.
  • Thomas Jefferson reported, however, that this calm public presentation belied the fact that President Washington was "extremely affected" the aspersions published in the press.
  • As a result, Mount Vernon, Pew Research Center and other historical experts conclude that President Washington did not seek a third term in part due to the relentless criticism he received in the media, and his desire to be no longer "buffeted in the public prints."
Sources
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