By the People – The Election of Barack Obama

Barack ObamaI watched the film of Barack Obama’s nomination and subsequent presidential election campaign, By the People, on iPlayer over the last couple of days. Obviously we all know what a great communicator he is and the significance of his election, but getting to see up close what happened during the nomination and general election campaigns and how both he and the wider campaign team acted and responded was fascinating. As a huge West Wing fan it was like watching a real life version!

The three words that kept coming to my mind were authenticity, humanity and community. In the order of their occurrence in the film these were some bits that stuck out for me.

1. Open and honest with people – refers to his own background and life on a number of occasions including referring to himself as still almost normal and sharing the pain of the loss of his grandmother.
2. Generous when giving credit – when talking to his campaign manager for Senator it is she who he credits for success not himself.
3. Calm – in both positive and disappointing situations like losing the New Hampshire primary after winning Iowa and the knock backs in Ohio and Texas.
4. Empathises – even with a nine year old over the act of shaking hands.
5. Relaxed – his body movement is so natural it’s frightening and he’s not bad on a basketball court either!
6. Community organiser – always talking about a grassroots movement for change.
7. Clarity – Looks for simple, clear messages e.g. when talking about fuel and emissions standards when he highlights the simple win-win and of course Change. Yes We Can.
8. Inspires all ages – even a nine year old volunteers to make calls for him and an older voter is out on the street campaigning for the first time since Bobby Kennedy.
9. Personal –  asks everyone their name when meeting people on the street, recognising that names are one of the most personal things to everyone.
10. Nothing is impossible – Hillary Clinton’s 30 point lead in the national polls doesn’t deflect him.
11. Treats his opponents with respect – congratulates Clinton on Ohio and Texas, though sometimes uses light hearted humour to have a dig e.g. the “likeable” comment in connection with Clinton in the New Hampshire debate.
12. Truth – when he speaks his mind about race at the National Constitution Center even though he doesn’t know if it’s a good idea for the campaign.

And above all the process it is not about him. He is seeking an American victory and when successful in primaries the vote wasn’t about him it was about the people. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for”.

Messrs Brown, Cameron and Clegg these are the qualities I want in a leader and I suspect many other people might too.

What the world needs now…

Stephen Waddington MD of the newly born (from the merger of Loewy’s PR firms) Speed Communications, posted yesterday about the recession and as he so clearly put it “bollocks to denial and despair”. I started writing a comment and then realised it was getting rather lengthy, so hence this post. I strongly advise you to read it first.

Firstly, and very importantly, I would strongly suspect that everyone so far in this conversation sympathises greatly with those who are suffering the “human” cost of the recession pointed out by Linda in the comments.

I also I agree with the point raised by Stephen Davies – we have got fat. The West has consumed and consumed, fed through a diet of credit financed by the East to feed its own desire for economic growth and facilitated by bankers’ personal greed. My personal favourite observation of this is the massive growth in storage centres. We have all bought so much “stuff” that we have to hire somewhere to store it! We are therefore going to have to have some degree of “pain” while we lose the weight.

It seems to me the key point of the post though is not whether the recession is causing/will cause suffering – unfortunately that is a given – but whether an attitude of despair or denial is likely to improve the situation?

In this regard I find myself agreeing with the quote that Bill highlights “we can have a depression if we really want one”. The problem is we haven’t had a recession with 24/7/365, always on, accessible from everywhere, fighting tooth and nail for attention, media coverage. The internet was literally in its infancy and mobile telephony and 100+ channel broadcasting were not widespread in 1990-92 so it was arguably easier to try and remain positive. In the face of such relentless negativity it is easy to see how people despair.

What we need is leadership. Leadership of the kind Barack Obama showed in his Inaugural address – things will be tough, hard work will be needed, but if we believe in ourselves we can achieve great things. For me the key distinction highlighted in the piece Linda links to is action. Making decisions, taking opportunities, changing, responding, not just accepting. This is what leadership is all about. We might make mistakes, but at least we tried to ride the wave of change, not let it wash over us.

Unfortunately Mr Obama is a bit of a one off. However in our own industry it seems to me that posts like these from Stephen are trying to show leadership by asking us all to focus on the positive. As an accountant, and therefore a bit of an outsider, I am inclined to think that the PR industry, as communications experts, has an opportunity to lead the way in trying to get a more positive conversation started.