Expert Insights: Developing Key Messages in Political Campaigns – White House Press Secretaries Panel


In this exclusive podcast recording, a distinguished panel featuring four former White House Press Secretaries share invaluable insights with public relations agency professionals on key message development, navigating unforeseen challenges, and maintaining accuracy in political campaigns.

The panel discussion, moderated by Dan Schnur, Director of the Institute for Politics at USC, brings together seasoned strategic communications professionals who played pivotal roles in shaping political communication strategies.

The panelists include Camille Johnston, Director of Communications for First Lady Michelle Obama, Noelia Rodriguez, Press Secretary for First Lady Laura Bush, Shelia Tate, Press Secretary for First Lady Nancy Reagan, and David Demarest, Press Secretary for President George H.W. Bush. Their collective experience and expertise comprehensively explore the intricacies of crafting and delivering effective political messages.

This enlightening panel discussion, presented by the Public Relations Society of America Los Angeles Chapter and the Public Relations Society of America Western District, received generous support from sponsors, with Golin Harris as the Platinum sponsor, BusinessWire as the Gold sponsor, and VMS as the Silver Sponsor.

Event sponsors included the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics and MWW Group, and special thanks were extended to Weber Shandwick and Korn/Ferry International. The event, which took place at the historic Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on July 13, 2010, was expertly produced by Denis Wolcott of The Wolcott Company.

Please note that there is a subtle, background hum throughout the recording, attributed to unavoidable external factors encountered during the panel’s recording.

Introduction and Panel Overview (02:30)

Dan Schnur, the moderator, introduces the esteemed panelists, each with a rich background in political communication, setting the stage for an enlightening discussion on “Developing Key Messages in Political Campaigns.”

Proactive versus Reactive Communication (13:12)

The panel delves into the dynamics of proactive versus reactive communication within White House press affairs. They explore the significance of predictability in managing communication and how spontaneity can sometimes be the adversary. The discussion delves into what truly makes news in the political landscape.

Navigating Unexpected Challenges (17:48)

Bush White House Press Secretary David Demarest discusses the true test of a White House communicator when faced with unexpected events. Drawing from the military adage that “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy,” the panel explores how even the most meticulously laid plans can go astray when unforeseen circumstances arise.

Grace Under Fire (19:02)

Shelia Tate shares a poignant anecdote from the day President Reagan was shot. The exchange between the president and his cabinet members at the hospital underscores the importance of responding with grace and composure in the face of adversity.

Authentic Communication (23:32)

The discussion turns to the challenge of authentically communicating a leader’s personality traits while under the scrutiny of the news media. The panel emphasizes the need to align public relations activities with the true characteristics of the leader, ensuring an authentic message.

Building Public Speaking Skills (27:02)

The panel explores the process of assisting First Lady Laura Bush in developing her public speaking skills, including engaging in local market new media interviews to enhance her communication prowess.

Advertisement and Event Promotion (28:01)

A brief advertisement promotes the upcoming Social Media Boot Camp in Los Angeles on Aug. 18-19, 2010, with registration details.

Navigating Press and Protecting Privacy (30:59)

Current White House Press Secretary Camille Johnston discusses various aspects, including First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech to the NAACP, safeguarding the privacy of the president’s daughters, ground rules with the news media, and the treatment of Sarah Palin’s children by the press.

Adapting to the Age of Social Media (36:00)

The panel reflects on protecting President Bush’s teenage children from media scrutiny, particularly in the age of social media, and how approaches to this challenge have evolved.

Crafting Proactive Messages (38:25)

David Demarest outlines his methodology, emphasizing Research, Strategy, Tactics, Plan, and Budget as crucial components in crafting proactive messages that resonate with the American people.

Symbolism and Values (43:39)

The discussion touches on the significance of The East Wing versus The West Wing, First Lady Michelle Obama’s White House garden as a symbol of healthy eating habits, and the potential risks involved in starting a garden on The South Lawn. The garden’s evolution into a symbol of the Obama administration’s values is explored.

Anti-Drug Campaign and Media Spotlight (47:28)

Former White House Press Secretary Shelia Tate discusses First Lady Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign against recreational drug use, shedding light on how it brought media attention to drug prevention programs.

Overcoming Comparisons (51:04)

The panel explores First Lady Laura Bush’s ability to carve her own path and overcome comparisons with her mother-in-law, emphasizing her unique qualities.

Transitioning to Government Communications (54:24)

The panelists share advice for private sector public relations professionals looking to transition into government communications. They also address the age-related aspects of government communications, considering that White House Press Secretary salaries are often lower than those in the private sector.

Questions and Answers (01:03:03)

The podcast concludes with a segment for questions and answers, allowing the audience to engage with the panelists.

Conclusion (01:14:26)

The podcast wraps up, leaving listeners with a wealth of insights into the world of political communication and message development in political campaigns.

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