Service of Need to Know

May 2nd, 2011

Categories: Blame, Details, Mistakes, Need to Know, Politics, Public Relations


Recent incidents reminded me of when George H.W. Bush was pilloried for not knowing what barcodes on grocery store items were. The man never went food shopping because he was busy and furthermore could afford to have others do it for him. So what? Would knowing what it’s like to wait in line at a grocery store make anyone a better President? I don’t think so.

If that’s what you think, you’d probably also believe that to be any good, PR people, marketers and doctors who represent or prescribe cancer, heart and diabetes or depression drugs must have had these diseases.

This year, early on Easter week, some complained because President Obama hadn’t sent out Easter greetings when he religiously recognized the holidays of others, such as Passover and Ramadan. Does anybody really think that any President personally sends out such greetings? This President is dealing with war, unemployment, escalating gas prices and inflation all ’round. But even if things were going swimmingly, who thinks that a President should draft and distribute such messages?

Press secretary Jay Carney responded that the President went to church on Easter implying that this was enough recognition. Carney should have put the matter to rest and admitted that the press office messed up and forgot to send out a message. But it is I who forgot: Few take blame for anything anymore.

gmAlso last week, a well-meaning radio talk show host started his interview with Dan Akerson with a reference to an OnStar promotion, asking Akerson for the inside scoop so he might win the prize, a General Motors car. It was clear that the General Motors chairman didn’t have a clue about this promotion and he mumbled some response making it obvious. Does a chairman who is driving an American icon through treacherous economic waters need to know about every subsidiary’s sales ploy? I don’t think so, however in this case, my bet is that he will in future.

Do you think that British Prime Minister David Cameron’s wife, Samantha, forgot to read the dress guidelines that came with the Royal wedding invitation to William and Kate’s nuptials? Should her husband’s staff have let her know that she was expected to wear a hat or doesn’t it matter that she appears to be the only hatless woman in the church?

In these instances, we’re dealing with perception and the potential of creating a crack for a competitor to jump in or jump on. How much detail do you think big business bosses, politicians or Presidents need to know or be concerned about?


4 Responses to “Service of Need to Know”

  1. Lucrezia Said:

    It’s up to an individual to decide what he needs to know. This may be the first and last time I stand up for “W”: One does not have to know what a bar code is in order to be a good President. Had he made it his business to acquaint himself with dozens of other facts more in sync with his job, he might have made a fine one.

    On the personal and/or social level, it pays to be aware of ones surroundings, and to develop a sense about those one deals with. It never hurts to watch ones back. Intimate details are off limits, no exceptions.

    Regarding dress codes, I would have no problem being the only hatless person in a crowd. A) I don’t like them. B) Who cares?

  2. Joannie S Said:

    I enjoyed your post and largely agree with you. We expect too many of the wrong things out of our leaders. (And perhaps not enough of the right ones – like a thorough grounding in history.)

    The press unfairly made a big deal out of President Bush not knowing what bar codes were. On the other hand, his handlers made a stupid mistake trying to make him appear to be “a man of the people.” He was definitely not that, and we all knew it. But he is a decent man, and that is what counts. They also took him hunting, and he shot no birds, but he did almost wing a reporter. That did not help his image either.

    Of course, President Obama’s Easter embarrassment was similar. A handler dropped the ball. He is also a decent man, and again that is what counts.

    I agree that Dan Akerson , GM’s chairman, shouldn’t have been made to look foolish by his interviewer throwing him a “curve ball” of a question he didn’t know the answer to, but instead of stumbling, he could have just said, “You got me, what promotion is that?” Solution: he needs more PR training.

    I don’t agree with you about Samantha Cameron’s bare head. It is utterly inconceivable to me that that the very smart and highly skilled Conservative Prime Minister and his wife did not know that ladies are supposed to wear hats to royal weddings. She didn’t wear a hat intentionally, and we don’t know why. Perhaps, and this would be very British, someone dared her not to wear one.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I think that Mrs. Cameron would have been better off not to attend the wedding than to make a statement by not respecting her host’s tradition. It’s a harmless tradition. I also don’t think she respected her husband’s position. She looked perfectly nice but maybe she’s not a supportive sort of person.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    WOW. You are right. The GM chairman should have asked, “what promotion is that?” Then, at least, the audience would have heard about it, and from the media, yet–third party endorsement! YES!!

    And I liked the notion of additional PR training and giving work to PR coaches.

    Your thought about Mrs. Cameron taking a dare is interesting but why would she want to embarrass her husband? Sure, we are not our brothers, sisters, children, husbands or wives, yet time after time those close to high profile people have done harm to siblings, parents or spouses by acting out in inappropriate ways due to anger, drugs, drink, jealousy or orneriness.

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