I had a brief discussion with a co-worker immediately after President Obama announced today that he supports same-sex marriage. The gist of our conversation was that not only were we elated with what this means for world history but extremely impressed by the public relations planning that we think went into the announcement.

Based on my past experience on the public relations side of a political news cycle, here is my best shot at deconstructing the planning:

1. Barack Obama has always supported same-sex marriage, but went “back in the closet” about it after he decided to run for national office. Check out: “Obama’s Views on Gay Marriage ‘Evolving’” in the New York Times in June 2011.

May 10 UPDATE: Apparently, my second guess was right and Obama/his campaign staff decided to announce his support for same-sex marriage after Vice President Biden talked about it on Meet the Press. The original plan was to announce his support right before the Democratic National Convention in September. (Source: The Advocate – News Roundup: The Day After) Kudos to his campaign staff for accomplishing everything in steps 2 and 3 in between steps 4 and 5 outlined below.

2. Either President Obama decided that he was willing to risk losing re-election over supporting same-sex marriage or his campaign staff concluded through analysis that it would be advantageous for him to support it. Campaign staff planned to announce his support for same-sex marriage the day after the North Carolina vote on the matter via an exclusive interview with a national TV news outlet. Why not a news conference? My guess is that an interview decreases the period of time between when you tell any media you have something to say and when the public knows a prediction of what you’re going to say. A news conference requires more lead time to invite reporters and implies you have a major announcement to make.

3. At some point between step 2 and step 5, his campaign staff did the following:

  • Decided which TV news reporter to pitch the exclusive interview to.
  • Wrote detailed talking points or an exact script for his answer to the question on his stance and prepared President Obama on it. This contained carefully crafted key messages directly tied to research on what language best satisfies people who are undecided on marriage equality.
  • Created a plan, list or both for who would receive personal calls on the news immediately after it broke.
  • Came up with a plan for how to staff the crazy heavy news cycle; may have communicated this to staff, depending on how many people were allowed to be in the know.
  • Drafted and approved all written and visual content to distribute publicly, including a blog post, “President Obama Supports Same Sex Marriage,” with blanks to fill in for the news outlet.

4. Campaign staff kickstarted a news cycle on same-sex marriage as it relates to the presidential election through planning a comment from Vice President Biden on Meet the Press.

5. Campaign staff pitched and negotiated an exclusive interview with ABC News, including timing of when the various segments would run. I wouldn’t be surprised if staff pitched the interview no longer than a few hours in advance as well as if ABC News and campaign staff didn’t negotiate the questions ahead of time.

6. The interview rolled out as planned and the whole world broke into a crazy news cycle.

Note: Notice how the White House did not issue a news/press release? You don’t need one if you line up an exclusive story on a hot topic then push it out via social media.

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This is only my personal opinion on what happened and I could be totally wrong. On the off-chance that President Obama changed his public stance on same-sex marriage as a direct result of pressure from advocates following Vice President Biden’s interview or that Vice President Biden jumped the gun on an opinion that was supposed to be under wraps until after the election, then steps 2 and 3 would have all taken place in a scramble between steps 4 and 5. The reason I doubt either is that Barack Obama has never been spontaneous in how he presents himself, and Robert Gibbs won the public relations professional of the year award from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) for his work on Obama for President in 2008.

What are your thoughts on the public relations behind Obama’s announcement? I’ve been looking for commentary from major public relations blogs but haven’t found any, yet.

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