3 PR lessons from Angela Merkel’s eye roll

The German chancellor made waves online with her reaction to a conversation with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. Here’s what you can take from the now viral visual.


Angela Merkel became the star of the Group of Twenty—but not for her policies or mediating between countries’ leaders.

Germany’s chancellor did make a political impact at the international forum. Bloomberg reported:

With the world’s attention on the German chancellor during her biggest global summit yet, the surprise moment at the 2,100-seat Elbphilharmonie shows both Merkel’s international standing and the risks that come with it. After hosting two days of “difficult” talks, Merkel can claim the credit for avoiding an open break with the U.S. president over trade and keeping the other 19 nations united behind climate goals that Trump has rejected.

However, it was a moment between Merkel and Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, that stole the show (and internet users’ hearts).

Slate reported:

… The two leaders were caught on camera right at the moment Merkel’s patience appears to have worn thin. When Putin appears to wag his finger at her, Merkel evidently rolled her eyes impatiently, a moment many women on Twitter immediately related to in what appeared to be an evident case of mansplaining.

Here’s how Twitter users reacted:

Merkel also gained attention for the much-awaited handshake with President Donald Trump:

Here are three takeaways PR pros can learn from Merkel’s time in the spotlight:

1. Visuals are uniquely powerful.

What makes Merkel’s eye roll so great is that it’s short and visually appealing. Whether you watch the video or view the GIF, you feel the weight of the chancellor’s annoyance and frustration more than any announcement could relate.

More than 527,000 photos are shared on Snapchat every minute. In that same time span, more than 65,000 photos and videos are added to Instagram and roughly 2.78 million views are racked up on YouTube.

If you want to get noticed, move past words.

That’s not to say words aren’t important—but adding captivating visuals to your press release or executive’s blog post can increase views and entice journalists. Posting a video or GIF to Facebook instead of a text-only question can increase engagement (and is more likely to be seen by your page’s followers).

2. Body language can speak louder than words.

Just as visuals are paramount in today’s PR and marketing efforts, body language is paramount in your communications.

From eye contact and purposeful movements during a keynote presentation to appropriate facial expressions when conducting a press conference after a crisis hits your organization, reporters and social media users will replay, memorialize and comment on your demeanor and movements sometimes more than on your words.

PR pros know that they should operate as if anything they say is on the record—and that a hot mic can be on wherever they speak. This can make you more aware and careful of how you speak and what comes out of your mouth. Take it a step further by watching how you react to a reporter’s question in a televised interview or your gestures as you deliver a speech to employees.

3. You no longer control the message.

In today’s quickly moving news cycle and landscape of viral trends, PR pros no longer can control messages as they once did in the one-way communication model. Instead, consumers dictate the direction of your brand’s online conversation—and the tone of it can change in an instant.

Though we don’t know what Putin and Merkel were discussing that produced her now-famous eye roll, internet users have plenty of theories.

Know that once your message is sent, it’s open to reaction, interpretation and even backlash online. Don’t feed internet trolls by responding (especially emotionally) to replies and memes that tear apart your efforts, but do make a concentrated effort to answer customers’ questions and concerns.

Avoid using hashtags to encourage conversation about your brand online unless you’re ready to handle criticism (such as with E.L. James’ Twitter Q&A mishap or #MyNYPD’s online firestorm). Embrace the reality that your tweet, press release or facial response could be the fodder for the internet’s next most popular meme. If appropriate to your brand’s voice, be willing to laugh at yourself right along with your consumers.

When crises hit, get in front of the situation as much as you can by responding quickly, transparently and with enough information as possible. Ditch the corporate apologies, and instead keep your audiences updated on your progress and your plan to remedy the situation.

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