Strategy & Marketing

Obama’s Media Strategy and Shallow Pulpits

During his presidency, I wrote about a deliberate strategy by Barack Obama to use words to inspire and motivate his audiences rather than offering specific steps for actual change. That’s not a “for or against Obama” comment. It’s a comment on strategy. I say this, because it’s not that different from a lot of pastors out there today. They don’t really know the Bible that well, and have become motivational speakers more that actual teachers and pastors.

In my book, “Unique” I talk about the fact that when I visit many pastor’s offices today, I notice that the bookshelves that used to be filled with books on theology, doctrine, and church history, have now been replaced by the latest bestsellers on motivation and marketing.

I got that same feeling from Obama. He seemed to be well spoken, and did a really great job of inspiring audiences. But he never really laid out too much in the way of specific steps for HOW he was going to make this vague sense of “change” happen. In the Wall Street Journal, columnist Peggy Noonan echoed the same sentiment. She wrote:

“Barack Obama’s biggest draw is not his eloquence. When you watch an Obama speech, you lean forward and listen and think, That’s good. He’s compelling, I like the way he speaks. And afterward all the commentators call him “impossibly eloquent” and say “he gave me thrills and chills.” But, in fact, when you go on the Internet and get a transcript of the speech and print it out and read it–that is, when you remove Mr. Obama from the words and take them on their own–you see the speech wasn’t all that interesting, and was in fact high-class boilerplate. (This was not true of John F. Kennedy’s speeches, for instance, which could be read seriously as part of the literature of modern American politics, or Martin Luther King’s work, which was powerful absent his voice.)

Mr. Obama is magnetic, interacts with the audience, leads a refrain: “Yes, we can.” It’s good, and compared with Hillary Clinton and John McCain, neither of whom seems really to enjoy giving speeches, it comes across as better than it is. But is it eloquence? No. Eloquence is deep thought expressed in clear words. With Mr. Obama the deep thought part is missing. What is present are sentiments.

Our country can be greater, it holds unachieved promise, our leaders have not led us well. “We struggle with our doubts, our fears, our cynicism.” Fair enough and true enough, but he doesn’t dig down to explain how to become a greater nation, what specific path to take–more power to the state, for instance, or more power to the individual. He doesn’t unpack his thoughts, as they say. He asserts and keeps on walking.”

It’s a great strategy – for Barack or pastors – until you get found out. Real change is more than motivation or inspiration. While that’s an important part, without concrete steps to make that change happen, everything simply stays the same.

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  1. Phil: "when I visit many pastor's offices today, I notice that the bookshelves that used to be filled with books on theology, doctrine, and church history, have now been replaced by the latest bestsellers on motivation and marketing."

    One of the big problems nowadays is the surfeit of motivational speakers, who have a businessman-corporationist mentality. Their Numero Uno priority is keeping the Church Factory-Machine smooth running and humming along.

    The Church needs shepherds who actually care about the sheep. But, sadly enough, I haven't met any for nearly thirty years now. I am being driven to the conclusion that the majority of pastors have made themselves irrelevant. The sheep are driven away, wandering over every mountain and in every valley.

  2. I like what Chris Busch had to say in his blog about Obama.  It rings true to me.

    Obama in many ways is a man in the right place at the right time with a lot of charisma who is riding a generational wave in the wake of a tipping point.  The message of questioning authority of the 60's may have run its course and this generation is looking for a voice that can embody the desire for a leader who can restrore trust in government.

    Obama is tapping into that in a race where he is the only really new voice.

    Whether he can deliver on that hope, should he win, is yet to be seen.  For now, he appears to be doing all he can not to tarnish or impede that hope.  His challenge might be to avoid saying too much.

  3. First of all, let me begin by stating that I voted for neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama in February’s primary.


    Phil’s blog raises some good points. Interestingly enough, when Barack Obama started his quest for the presidency, many critics claimed that his platform and presentation were too academic, and they found him boring. Remember his background, he is a former professor of constitutional law and his grooming and personality appeared to incline him towards being too detailed and policy driven. Subsequently, his inspirational approach garnered great support from voters and boos from many of the same critics.


    The goal of business is to turn a profit and the goal primary campaign is to win the most delegates. Hillary Clinton has recognized the fact that the people want more than just policy and out of desperation she has decided to “throw the kitchen sink” at Barack Obama. She also has recognized that she needs to inspire the people and has recently stepped up branding her self as a “fighter”. Some of her tactics have been fair and some have been below the belt. One thing that appears to be happening is that people are paying more attention to her and her campaign and tonight we will see if that has translated into winning more delegates.


    But Phil’s comments are about Barack Obama and his lack of substance. Unfortunately, no distinction is shown between Obama’s simple and extremely effective public presentation that is focused on appealing to the masses (especially younger voters who could care less about policy detail) and the information that he reserves for policy sessions. Unlike an effective minister, during a primary an effective candidate plays more the role of a preacher/profit (John the Baptist style) with a single call to action (“Obama = Change”) than that of gospel teacher.


    These candidates have teams and often times their policies are created by groups of people, or specialists, not the candidates themselves. Mostly what leaders do is employ their judgment to accept or reject the plan and take the credit or the fall, depending on the success or failure of whatever is put forth. President Bush didn’t design the attack plan for the offensive in Iraq, nor did he design the reconstruction plan, but he certainly is taking the fall for his bad judgment in allowing us to proceed into what is widely considered a messy and expensive situation that is more complex than we expected.


    The most effective President is a visionary leader with excellent judgment and a team of brilliant political engineers united behind him. If Barack Obama is wise, he will surround himself with the most competent specialists in every area and rally their genius around his vision for the direction of this nation. He will also utilize his exceptional relational skills as he works with the different branches of government to allow his policy recommendations to pass and works with the international community to fix our tarnished image and restore and create positive relations with them.


    Many political analysts have noted that he and Hillary Clinton have similar plans in many regards (which would be impossible if he had empty plans, as Phil’s blog suggests). The most recent debates (the last 3-4) have allowed for Hillary and Barack to highlight the differences between their plans and their approaches. Barack actually emphasized many important, detail oriented differences. Granted Hillary has generally articulated more drill down detail, but that does not mean that Barack does not have viable plans and it doesn’t mean that he is will fare poorly as president. To be honest with you, when Hillary Clinton insisted on belaboring the health care portion of the most recent debate, her lack of restraint caused many viewers concern, but she sure did have a lot of policy detail. What they saw was a person who looked like she was having a hard time leading herself much less a nation in peril.


    What the American people desire most in a president is excellent leadership and exceptional judgment. If the quality of Barack Obama’s campaign is any indication, he sure knows how to pick the right advisors and he sure knows how to move America in the direction he desires. As many people have commented, Barack has more foreign policy experience than Bill Clinton did his first go round and more experience than Abraham Lincoln. If God, who chooses all leaders (read your Bible), decides to have him lead this nation, I don’t expect him to be perfect, but I won’t be surprised if he is excellent.


    P.S. The reason I didn’t vote for either o
    f them is because of their stance on abortion and gay marriage. We’ll see what happens in the General Election. I have a problem with the way much of the Republican Party has used the name of Jesus to forward an agenda He would not find befitting of his name.


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