Successful Media Strategies for Business: How Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Curtin Won Journalists' Support©

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

At the height of the Pacific war, the American and Australian leaders communicated successfully with journalists, providing valuable business strategies on how to develop positive media relations in crises. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 1941, the United States President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Australian Prime Minister, John Curtin, generated favorable news coverage about their leadership. Yet there is a lack of information on their media strategies to win journalists ' support in a time of crisis. This paper shows how Roosevelt and Curtin managed to influence and persuade the news media. First, they frequently communicated to journalists in an honest, egalitarian and friendly way, increasing the number of regular news briefings between the press and the national leader. Secondly, they advanced the relatively new medium of radio to broadcast appealing, inclusive and accessible messages. Journalists repeated and amplified their radio talks in the news. Thirdly, they used practiced, forceful rhetoric and hand gestures in filmed newsreel scenes to convey their resolve and create the appearance of a direct, friendly relationship with their target audiences. These media strategies are still useful to business leaders when managing information needs in today's 24-hour news cycle.©

JEL: D83

KEYWORDS: Franklin D. Roosevelt; John Curtin; Business Communication; Media Strategies.

INTRODUCTION

Just as CEOs need to communicate a unifying vision to reassure troubled markets, Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the media to bring together diverse global audiences after the Pearl Harbor bombing. During the Pacific crisis, for example, Australian people's "admiration of his personal qualities" was "unlimited", as that country's Prime Minister John Curtin declared (1945a). Why did people in Australia and around the world develop "a personal devotion" to this United States president "rarely given by a people to any statesman other than their own" (Eggleston, 1945)? While Roosevelt is known for his stirring radio "fireside chats," there is a lack of published findings on how he managed his media relations to generate positive news coverage about his resolve to end the Pacific crisis with Curtin. Likewise, United States journalists reported on "Honest John" Curtin's eloquent radio rhetoric, likening this to the words of Civil War poet Walt Whitman because it "should have roused the fight in the entire U.S. public" (Time, March 23, 1942, p. 27; August 23, 1943, p. 34; August 30, 1943, p. 28). Their media strategies are useful for today's businesses when communicating information needs during a time of crisis.

Effective leadership calls for personable executives skilled in the fine art of communicating across boundaries (Fombrun, 1992; Hartog and Verbürg, 1997). The most successful firms provide a common understanding of a clear and consistent corporate vision (Bartlett and Ghosal, 2002). Through their frequent messages in the press, radio and film, Roosevelt and Curtin generated mainly favorable media coverage about their alliance in World War II (hereafter the war). They developed cooperative media strategies after the Japanese military government's bombing of the Hawaiian naval base, Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941. Roosevelt sent about 90,000 US servicemen to Australia, a country with major military bases and a population of seven million people, by August 1942 (Curtin, 1944a; Saunders and Taylor, 1995). By talking frequently with journalists, using inclusive language and practiced, forceful gestures, they persuaded varied public audiences to coalesce and support their strategic direction. This paper identifies the lessons of their media success for today's businesses.

To achieve this aim, the next section conducts a review of previously published literature that suggests the two leaders' expanded use of the media. Yet there are gaps in our understanding of how these wartime media strategies may apply to today's corporations, when seeking journalists' support during a crisis. …

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