The Scoop: The PR implications of Joe Biden’s terrible night

Plus: Most Gen Zers consider themselves video creators; how Nike lost the running market.

The presidential debate

We’ll let the headlines speak for themselves. These are the hero-spot stories on major news sites as of 9 a.m. ET Friday:

Democrats panic over Biden, doubting his future.”

Democrats really have no way to spin this. We break down Biden’s disastrous debate.”

Democrats Discuss Replacing Biden on Presidential Ticket.”

Thursday night’s presidential debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump could not have gone worse for the Democrat. Already this morning the Biden camp has had to deny that he’ll drop out of the race altogether.

As the Washington Post described his performance:

His voice was soft and raspy, and he repeatedly tried, and failed, to clear his throat. His answers, at times, were rambling, and at one point he froze up. At another, he began an answer on abortion, before suddenly segueing into immigration. When Trump spoke, Biden often watched with his mouth agape and eyes flared wide — a split screen that gave off the impression of the aging grandfather that he is, not the swashbuckling leader he hoped to project.

The White House said, after the debate had already started, that Biden had a cold. But sick or well, his performance gave reason to doubt that a man who would turn 82 years old before he took his second oath of office could hold the most stressful job in the world until the age of 86.



Trump, who is only three years younger than Biden, nonetheless spoke more coherently, albeit across a string of falsehoods. He continued to offer statements the New York Times called “frequently false, lacked context or were vague enough to be misleading.”

But not only did this headline offer no new information — factcheckers have noted this about Trump for nearly a decade at this point — they appeared far, far below the brutal headlines on Biden’s age and stamina.

Surrogates struggled to find much to tout in Biden’s performance. Vice President Kamala Harris said on CNN after the debate that, “It was a slow start. That’s obvious to everyone. I’m not going to debate that point,” though she insisted he finished “strong.” On the morning talk show circuit, former lieutenants and regular defenders of Biden struggled to find much nice to say at all. Even liberal comedian Jon Stewart said after the debate that Biden had “resting 25th Amendment face” — referencing the protocol for when a president dies or is too infirm to perform his duties.

Why it matters: Style matters. Presentation matters.

This moment calls to mind the famously televised 1960 debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, in which JFK’s polished appearance and confident bearing helped prompt viewers to declare him the clear winner over the sweaty, sickly looking Nixon. The difference here, though, is that radio listeners believed Nixon to have won the debate. Biden’s labored responses likely wouldn’t have won favor even in an audio recording.

PR professionals know that media training, murder boarding, and speech and debate prep are such key parts of the industry. And Biden is no stranger to such preparation, and certainly had plenty of preparation time, spending nearly a week cloistered at Camp David to study policy and hold mock debates.

Yet when push comes to shove, every principal has to perform on their own, and Biden wasn’t well enough to deliver at a critical moment.

Maybe Biden’s poor performance is attributable to his being sick. Or maybe he is simply too old to perform the duties required of the President of the United States. Regardless, the question of how to mitigate this damage now comes front and center.

This is a situation where mis- and disinformation needn’t enter into the equation. Mainstream media, the Trump campaign and social media all has 90 minutes of debate footage to cut into damning packages, worrisome TikToks and brutal campaign ads.

Surrogates can’t get Biden out of this. People talking about his stamina and ability to hold the office mean nothing now. The only way out is for Biden to show, not tell, that he has the mental acuity and physical ability to lead for four more years.

If he can’t, he might find himself replaced on the ticket just months before Election Day.

Editor’s Top Reads

  • A new study finds that most members of Gen Z are active participants in online life rather than passive observers, with 65% considering themselves “video content creators.” The Washington Post report attributes this high number to the rise of TikTok’s easy-to-use editing tools which lowered barriers to entry. Now that many of those styles and tools have been adopted by YouTube and Instagram, it’s easy for anyone to have a voice. Remember to approach Gen Z as co-creators on social media — and to look for opportunities to solicit user-generated content.
  • Nike’s business is struggling just now, reporting a major revenue decline and cutting its revenue outlook. While the reasons for this are complex, one possibility for declining sales is its failure to stay on the cutting edge of the running culture through concerted community relations activities, the Wall Street Journal reports. Even in the shoe giant’s backyard of Oregon, runners say they haven’t seen sales reps from Nike as often as they have other brands, including New Balance and Hoka. Nike acknowledges its pullback. “We underinvested in that, and that’s what we’re reinvesting in,” Nike Chief Executive John Donahoe told the Wall Street Journal. In response, Nike is now doubling the team of reps who meet with running clubs — but will it be enough to regain market share? (It’s also worth noting that the minds behind some of Nike’s most iconic marketing work in the past decades have left the brand’s lauded longtime agency of record, Wieden + Kennedy, and spun off .)
  • New inflation numbers released Friday are good news for the Federal Reserve. The Personal Expenditures Index, which removes food and fuel costs, came in at 2.6% for the month, in line with expectations and a notch below last month’s 2.7%. If inflation continues to trend down, we could at last see cuts to interest rates — something businesses have been champing at the bit to see.

Allison Carter is editor-in-chief of PR Daily. Follow her on or LinkedIn.


One Response to “The Scoop: The PR implications of Joe Biden’s terrible night”

    Sinetra Bowdry says:

    A President Who Stutters Is Scrutinized By America Over His Public Speaking Performance.

    What would you have done differently if you had a disability?

    Following the first Presidential Debate, it’s crucial to address the significance of President Joe Biden’s ongoing struggles with stuttering. Mistaking a person’s disability as a sign of weakness is reprehensible. This character assassination occurred after the debate last night. Comments like, “He’s too old; He’s senile; He had long pauses, Let’s get someone else to do the job” – made my blood boil because this shows the lack of understanding about Speech-Language disabilities.

    What America needs to embrace is that the President of the United States has a disability – he stutters. He doesn’t have a cognitive impairment. Understanding and acknowledging these challenges adds depth to the public perception of Biden as a leader. If one knows anyone who stutters, one would understand that public speaking can cause anxiety especially for 90 minutes. Listen to the debate again. Watch his moments and you will see the stammers, moments of stillness, and long pauses. A person who stutters often may not have or use their “speech strategies” when speaking in a public forum.

    According to the National Stuttering Association, stuttering is a speech impediment and neurological disorder characterized by repetitions, prolongations, or blocks in speech. Biden has faced challenges with stuttering throughout his life, with a genetic component noted in his family history, including his uncle who also stuttered. In a feature by The Atlantic, it was revealed that Biden took proactive steps to manage his stutter from a young age, including self-imposed speech exercises in front of a mirror reciting poetry. Despite his efforts, Biden shared in a CNN town hall that the impediment still affects him at times, especially when fatigued. Importantly, he emphasized that stuttering is unrelated to one’s intelligence or intellectual capacity.

    So, if you left feeling this debate feeling that Biden was incompetent, I will type it again. Biden is a stutterer. This debate performance proved just that. This debate performance doesn’t mean he is senile. As a matter of fact, he is heroic just to stand on the largest stage in the world when many are saying he did a “horrible” job.

    What would you have done differently if you had a disability? Your thoughts?

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