It’s a case of old school vs. new school communication. Plato vs. Zuckerberg. That is, speech vs. social media. But in reality the two can and should complement each other and the White House communications team has just given another example of how to use and integrate these new channels to amplify an important message. In this case D-Day.
In many respects, President Barack Obama’s speech in Normandy was itself a teaching machine. Filled with powerful rhetorical imagery and metaphoric values, he used the world’s oldest form of communication to commemorate and honor the past and reassure the future.
The president’s opening line was itself masterful in its metaphoric power:
“If prayer were made of sound, the skies over England that night would have deafened the world.”
His second sentence was equally illustrative in its imagery:
“Captains paced their decks. Pilots tapped their gauges. Commanders poured over maps, fully aware that for all the months of meticulous planning, everything could go wrong: the winds, the tides, the element of surprise — and above all, the audacious bet that what waited on the other side of the Channel would compel men not to shrink away, but to charge ahead.”
Gathered among an audience of D-Day veterans and foreign leaders the president had three clear goals in this address. First, to remember and acknowledge sacrifices paid on the beaches of Normandy and to keep the story alive. He did it in the form of a rhetorical challenge:
“Whenever the world makes you cynical — stop and think of these men.”
Second, the president needed to reassure America’s European allies that it’s un-waivered in its commitment to a free continent. Finally, he had to acknowledge the continuing sacrifice U.S. service members are still giving in a post 9-11 world:
“And as today’s wars come to an end, this generation of servicemen and women will step out of uniform. They, too, will build families and lives of their own. They, too, will become leaders in their communities, in politics, in commerce and industry — the leaders we need for the beachheads of our time. God willing, they, too, will grow old in the land they helped keep free. And someday, future generations, whether seventy or seven hundred years hence, will gather at places like this to honor them — and to say that these were generations of men and women who proved once again that the United States of America is and will remain the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known.”
For a president severely struggling at home and in congress, it may have been one of his better moments. But the challenge for the White House was not letting the message disappear into the sands of Normandy. Major media coverage significantly helped. But as an established brand, the White House also controls its own messaging, and in this case it tactically coordinated and integrated the D-Day message across multiple media channels to ensure it was targeted to a series of narrow audiences for the widest possibly reach. (Figure 1)
First and foremost, was the YouTube video of the speech. But the White House communications team also targeted separate messages, pictures, and excerpts of the speech to individual social media channels. (Figure 2) The multi-channel integration creates a hub and spoke network to target individual audiences where they live in social media.
In an age of modern communication it’s a smart strategic use of social media to amplify a message and engage participation. If there was any fault in this particular strategy, it’s in the fact that the communications team should have tactically posted more images and messages throughout the day with a more coordinated effort in each post to link and drive audiences to the blog and the YouTube speech. In that respect, it’s one miscue an otherwise disciplined communications team.
It doesn’t have to be a presidential speech. The lessons for brands, corporate communication teams and non-profits alike are profound. Compelling content doesn’t have to live and die in a single space. Integration across multiple channels is key—and often free. The White House team gives a useful strategic road map for communicators to follow.