Obama's #SOTU press strategy: all of the above

Obama's economic proposals in 60 seconds
Obama's economic proposals in 60 seconds

A policy proposal announced on Facebook. A "behind the scenes" YouTube video. A copy of the speech on Medium before it even started on TV.

For this year's State of the Union, White House press strategists tried a whole raft of new promotional techniques. Partly they were trying to drive more viewers to Tuesday's prime time address; but more broadly they were trying to reach Americans who were unlikely to tune in at all.

The effort will continue later this week when President Obama sits down for interviews with three YouTube stars, GloZell Green, Bethany Mota and Hank Green, on the White House's YouTube channel.

"We are in the middle of a revolution in how people consume information," White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said in an email message during the speech. "For many, the idea of appointment television is becoming an anachronism."

What the Obama administration is doing is more of an evolution than a revolution. Every White House seeks new ways to bypass the media -- and now there are more ways than ever. For Pfeiffer and his colleagues, sites like Facebook (FB), YouTube, Twitter (TWTR) and Instagram are opportunities -- ones that grant them a much greater degree of control.

"The data-driven White House has seen the numbers," CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta wrote last week. "More than 48 million viewers watched the President's State of the Union in 2010. Roughly 33 million people tuned in last year, a 31% decrease."

"We're programming around that fact," a White House official told Acosta.

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The White House started pushing what it called State of the Union "spoilers" as soon as the New Year started, leading up to Tuesday night's address.

A proposal for free community college was previewed in an Obama video recorded aboard Air Force One and posted to Facebook. It tallied up 7.5 million views in the first two days -- making it the White House's most popular video to date.

Then a presidential plan for broadband access was shared on YouTube and Upworthy.

And a proposed expansion of paid leave programs was publicized via LinkedIn.

White House aides were thrilled to see some of the announcements trending on Twitter.

They still sought out traditional forums -- like Sunday morning television shows -- to hammer home their messages and reach millions of people.

But they also strived to use the web whenever possible.

Related: Why Obama is concerned about middle class

When I interviewed Pfeiffer last month for CNN's "Reliable Sources," he put it this way: "We don't have an either-or strategy, we have an and-both strategy."

On Tuesday, in a remark that likely made some White House correspondents cringe, the official White House Twitter feed said "the best place to watch the State of the Union at 9pm ET" was through the government's live stream.

Deputy press secretary Eric Schultz also published a hand-written note from the president encouraging people to "tune in on Tuesday so I can share my ideas."

And the administration's YouTube channel had an elaborate live pre-game show.

The White House live-tweeted the 9 p.m. speech, complete with charts and graphics prepared ahead of time. It also released the text of the whole speech a few minutes ahead of the official start. In the past, the text has been provided to news organizations beforehand, but not to the general public.

"We want to create a multimedia experience where people can consume the State of the Union wherever whenever and however they want," Pfeiffer said in an email.

That "experience" extended to a teasing photo: the White House posted a photo of a tan suit before the speech, meant to generate enthusiasm for the speech and get people guessing whether the president might don the much-maligned suit he wore at a press conference last August.

He went with a black suit instead.


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