A surprise from “The Great Communicator”


This week I was surprised by a bit of trivia I learned while touring Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Library with my family. It struck me that the former president known as “The Great Communicator” is still teaching PR lessons from the grave.

It’s our spring break so we’re enjoying sunny SoCal. Took a drive into the green hills of Simi Valley and checked out the library, which is much more like a museum. It has a full replica of the Oval Office as it looked during Reagan’s presidency.

It seemed a bit small to me – not that I’ve ever been to the real one, but I have watched every episode of “The West Wing,” so you’d think I would know ;). So as the rest of the tour group filed out, I asked the guide about it. She said it’s a precise replica, and then added this really cool story (I’m summarizing what she said here, I haven’t checked it out through other sources):

When Reagan reviewed the original plans for the library, he noticed that the ceiling on the replica Oval Office was only 15.5 feet – not the 18.5 feet of the original. When he called this out to the architects, they told him the county zoning would not allow any structure that high.

“You can see the little plaque the president kept on his desk,” the tour guide said, pointing to the item that read “It Can Be Done.”

At this point I was sure she was going to say that he inspired the team to rally support and get an exception granted to the zoning ordinance, or something dramatic like this. After all, this was a former President of the United States, the man who called on Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

He wouldn’t let some little zoning law stop him!

But no. “Did you notice how you walked down a gradual ramp to get in here?” she continued. “This floor is three feet lower than the rest of the library. And you’ll walk up that little ramp when you leave.”

The next group was coming in, so I took the cue and paced up the slight incline, pondering the lesson here for us PR pros today.

I know how to run grassroots PR campaigns that support government relations initiatives. So that’s the assumption I defaulted to. I also know lots of other communications and PR strategies that can resolve other business challenges.

But from now on, before I throw all my resources and energy into the messiness that is human relationships, I’m going to look around very carefully for a solution that doesn’t involve outsiders.

Because sometimes it’s way easier to just dig a hole.

This article was originally published on Apr 03, 2019.