Dennis Culloton, President & CEO
For three of Illinois’ favorite sons—President Obama, Governor Quinn and Mayor Emanuel—it’s been a summer of crisis. So much of the criticism they’ve faced has been over imagery. Should President Obama have visited the Texas border towns where thousands of Central American children have illegally migrated to escape human rights abuses; should Mayor Emanuel have attended the funeral of a child killed by a gang member’s bullet; should Governor Quinn have attended the “Black Economic Forum” at Chicago State University?
In each case, these elected leaders had their reasons for not attending. In each case, political foes blasted them for their decision.
With the power of the incumbency comes the power to create images, the ability to tell a story with a picture. Many decisions about what events public figures should or should not attend are often over-calibrated by my colleagues who manage campaigns and elected officials to avoid a potential image that may send an unintended message. However, in so doing, they often miss the chance for a much a larger opportunity to send a positive and powerful message.
We remember Mayor Rudy Giuliani heading to Ground Zero on September 11, 2001. Not because of what he said, but because of the leadership and calm he showed heading to the scene of the greatest calamity in his city’s history. We forget that President Bush flew around the country in Air Force One that day because days later he inspired the country when he went to Ground Zero to visit rescue crews on the rubble pile of the Twin Towers with a megaphone that amplified his message around the world.
Not every event is always right. But political leaders and business leaders who need to exert leadership or calm the public’s anxieties can use the power of the image to inspire and perhaps change the course of events.
And if pop-culture reinforces this point better, fans of “Scandal” at our firm say President Fitzgerald Grant learned this point the hard way. Check out an episode recap here. (Warning Spoiler Alert!)