I like to talk about weighty, serious subjects around here. I like to talk about how to deal with what might be someone–or lots of someones–worst day ever. I think these are important subjects and each one offers the opportunity to do better next time we find someone facing their worst day ever.
The problem with this is that worst days ever (contrary to what you see on TV) don’t happen that often. And we’ve got to find something to pay the bills in the meantime, so we take our communication skills and use them on day-to-day things like risk communication. We dabble in PR and try to convince people of things (with some small measure of success).
The problem I have with all of this communication is that we never change our tone. We’re serious in the face of crisis and serious on… Tuesdays? “If we just give ’em all of the facts in a clear concise (or not so much) fashion, they’ll come over to our side of the discussion.” Except that, as we discussed yesterday, we live and work in a marketplace of communicators. Everyone is selling some idea and our ideas–no matter how right they are–don’t seem to play very well in this marketplace.
I find little fault on our part, especially when you consider the juggernauts we’re going up against. Staid, inoffensive, “safe” advertising by whitecoats versus the combined power of sexy, young, rebellious Madison Avenue (and yes, it doesn’t matter that those things don’t necessarily go together). Talk about being set up for failure.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can change the rules of them game, and given our successes with one hand tied behind our backs, think of all the good we can do! What’s this magical change, you ask? Why did it take me five paragraphs to get to it? Because it’s not that big a deal. In fact, I already talked about it last year: have fun (barring that, at least pretend like you’re enjoying yourself).
The reason I bring it up today is because of this delightful piece: This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For. Penned by Paul Shaw cross, who is the Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, it was written in response to a We The People petition asking for the United States to commence building a Death Star by 2016.
The White House could have easily blown this petition off and issued a flat denial, because really? A Death Star? But they didn’t. They saw an opportunity to have some fun. And not just any fun, but fun that also strove to accomplish some of the Administration’ s goals.
We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field. The President has held the first-ever White House science fairs and Astronomy Night on the South Lawn because he knows these domains are critical to our country’s future, and to ensuring the United States continues leading the world in doing big things.
If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star’s power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.
Hokey, yes. But as the father of a six-year-old with a serious science AND Star Wars jones, this is exactly the kind of thing that could steer his life.
And what did it cost the White House? Not one thin dime. All they had to do was put aside the snooty, professional veneer that so many of us default to when messaging.
Are we content to continue believing that government communications are just naturally designed to fail? Be careful how you answer that, because the White House may be trying to prove you wrong.