3 PR lessons from Bill Clinton

The former president is still called upon for various political campaigns and projects. Public relations professionals can glean advice from his communications and leadership skills this Presidents Day. 


Politicians know the road to success lies just as much in media savvy as it does with strategic policy making.

That truth is even more evident in the White House. U.S. history is dotted with PR successes and cautionary tales from presidents throughout the years.

It should come as no surprise that former U.S. President Bill Clinton is regarded as a masterful communicator; he offers several lessons that PR pros can put to practice. Here are three of them:

1. Follow the trends

One of Clinton’s often-repeated lines when speaking about the economy is, “Follow the trend lines, not the headlines.” Regardless of the issue, headlines can often be misleading from actual trends. For example, while violent mass shootings make headlines, the data shows homicide rates are declining in much of the world.

For PR pros, the lesson is two-fold. By the time the story is making headlines, your opportunities can be limited. But more importantly, journalists are looking for trends; those who stay ahead of the curve will build meaningful relationships, earn valuable coverage and be better positioned to control the story.

2. Show empathy

Another favorite of Clinton’s was, “I feel your pain.” He didn’t just say it—he showed it. Clinton connected with his audience in a way that would make any leader jealous.

Successful PR pros understand the needs and challenges of the media, their clients and target audiences. After all, relationships are at the heart of public relations.

It isn’t easy to step out of your comfort zone, but you will make a more genuine connection the more you strive to understand what matters to your audience and what keeps them up at night.

3. Be confident

When it comes to politicians, voters undoubtedly want someone who is self-confident.

For Clinton, that confidence started in his teenage years, as he dreamt of being president. He ran for Arkansas Attorney General at the age of 30, and become one of the youngest governors two years later.

It was also his empathy and confidence—together a powerful combination—that helped him overcome multiple sex scandals and earn forgiveness from the public.

If there’s one characteristic (aside from multi-tasking) that all PR pros must possess, it’s confidence. You need to believe in your work, your abilities and your client or organization. Being convincing is essential; it helps you make good first impressions and earn trust.

Keys to communication

Clinton’s campaign mantra of 1992—”it’s the economy, stupid”—is as unforgettable as it was effective. Time called his mea culpa for his affair with Monica Lewinsky scandal one of the top apologies in history.

Now, as campaigns and candidates across the country call upon his charisma and charm, he is quick to remind voters that they need to look beyond the headlines to see the progress our nation has made.

Clinton’s empathy, confidence and focus on the big picture helped solidify him as a great communicator and leader. No matter where you stand politically, these are traits PR pros should espouse.

Mike Kennerknecht is public relations supervisor at Tipping Point Communications with more than a decade of experience working in politics and public affairs. You can connect with him online at www.mikekennerknecht.com .

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