‘Cuse Chronicles by a CEO – The Video the President Did That Everyone is Talking About

Phil Nardone

In today’s world, it is all about taking risks. Doing the same old thing won’t cut it anymore and for those of us in the PR industry, we’ve recently been called upon by our clients to help them take these risks and pulse out the pros and cons of what could happen.

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Image from The Federalist under CC license: http://thefederalist.com/2015/02/18/president-obamas-narcissism-reflects-our-own/ 

Last week, President Obama took a big risk– he made a Buzzfeed Video. With the sign-up date for health insurance offered under the Affordable Care Act looming, the President turned to BuzzFeed to help him spread the word. And boy did it make an impression. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the video received over 23 million views, 600,000 likes, and 40,000 comments in just over 24 hours and was covered everywhere from CNN to Rolling Stone Magazine. However, despite the whirlwind of opinions that swirled around this video, on Friday the Obama administration announced it was extending the sign-up date on HealthCare.gov another two months -- through to April – so how effective was this marketing initiative??

Each week, I assign one student in each of my capstone classes to pick a discussion topic and lead the class in conversation. To my surprise, last week both discussion sessions centered around the President’s video.  I found this fact alone fascinating as I can’t tell you the last time both of my sessions discussed the same topic. What fascinated me even more was the opposing point-of-view each class took.

As I sat back and listened to my students discuss, I couldn’t help feel like GroupThink was coming into play. GroupThink refers to a psychological phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group. People will often set aside their own personal beliefs and adopt the opinion of the rest of the group.

The two stances my students took was this: the afternoon session was stoutly opposed to the video while the evening session approved of it. In each session, there were two strong opinions that drove the conversation. In my afternoon session, after the discussion topic was presented and students slowly started to voice their opinions, one young man raised his hand and very calmly, yet passionately, explained that he simply could not sit in class any longer and listen to people talk about how great the video was, when his brother has been deployed to Iraq two times during President Obama’s term. He spoke about how he felt that as the Commander-in-Chief of our country, this is not how the President should be spending his time while thousands of Americas are overseas risking their lives to protect our freedom. The more he spoke, the more I noticed that other students started to chime in and offer their agreement. By the time class concluded, almost all of my students in in the afternoon session were against the video.

Session 4 had a much different tune. Similar to my previous session, after the topic was presented, an outspoken, passionate student of mine voiced her opinion in support of the video. She talked about the President’s achievements in foreign policy and lauded the President’s efforts to target a specific demographic by leveraging the BuzzFeed community. The more passionate she became the more other students started nodding in agreement. While one or two students held their ground, the majority of my students in the evening session left appreciating the video and its attempt to humanize President Obama.

Conversations and discussions like these are one of my favorite parts of not only being a professor but also running an agency. I enjoy hearing different opinions from both my students and my colleagues at PAN and make it a point to draw out those opinions that might not be in line with the rest. It’s easy to fall into the GroupThink mentality, but I always remind my students and staff that varying opinions and thoughts make for a fuller, more intelligent conversation. Hearing from someone who has a different viewpoint than your own makes you think about the situation in a whole new way and presents questions you may have never thought of before. Both in the classroom and at PAN, I often look to and call upon those who aren’t the first ones to step-up and offer their opinion. It’s important to me that all voices, thoughts and opinions are heard; those who know my management style know that I work to foster an environment in which my students and staff members feel comfortable voicing their opinion, whatever they may be.

I can’t help but think how this video will affect the upcoming 2016 presidential election. As Obama has already served his two Presidential terms and is not eligible to be elected again, his actions from here on out are a reflection on the Democratic Party as a whole, not just his administration. Since class let out on Tuesday evening, I’ve mentioned the events that transpired to friends and a number of them raised this point and questioned who on his communications team approved the making of the video. Many also indicated that this likely won’t be the last time the video is questioned, and speculated about how the Republicans will use it next year.

So tell me, what are your thoughts on President Obama’s BuzzFeed video? Do you think it’s appropriate for the Commander-in-Chief of the United States of America to make a video highlighting the things everybody does but doesn’t talk about?  Do you think the Republicans will use this video tactic against the Democratic candidate in the upcoming election? Tell me your thoughts, I’m all ears. 

This blog post is part of larger series, ‘Cuse Chronicles by a CEO, from PAN President & Founder, Philip A. Nardone, Jr., as he chronicles his experience teaching two capstones classes at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. 

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