Back in my newspaper days, I would harangue reporters who worked for me that beginning a story or column with a dictionary definition was the height of lazy, uninspired writing. I still believe that fervently, which is why I’m blathering on in this first paragraph so that what follows does not actually begin this blog post.

Webster’s defines “presidential” as “having a bearing or demeanor befitting a president; dignified and confident.” It’s that sort of person, historically, Americans have wanted to see hold The Highest Office in the Land — someone who epitomizes, or at least lands somewhere in the ZIP code of, class. Even those presidents with whom we’ve disagreed politically, most of us would probably admit, had a certain “presidential” manner about them that imbued most of the things they said or did. It was, quite simply, what was expected of the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Emphasis on “was.”

Donald Trump, as he rewrote the rules of campaigning for president, is in the midst of rewriting the rules for transitioning to power as president. Consider just the optics of the photo posted above. On the left is a memento from the first Reagan-Bush swearing in, circa 1981: gold-plated suit buttons issued by the inaugural committee. On the right, another official keepsake, this time from Team Trump-Pence in advance of next Friday’s ceremony: red Solo cups commemorating the occasion. In the span of 36 years, and just five presidents, inaugural gear has gone from accessories for businesswear to supplies for a wapatui party.

I bring this up not to make a political or ideological point. Only a PR one. And that point is this: “Presidential” appears to have lost its traditional meaning. You may think that’s a bad thing. You may think that’s a good thing. But it’s definitely a thing those of us in the business of creating affinity for people and brands through the meaningful arrangement of words into sentences need to note. ┬áLike the reporters who used to work for me, we can’t rely on Webster’s to do our jobs for us.

 

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