Friday, January 16, 2009

Is the Obama inauguration too overhyped?

On the same day that Circuit City announced it is liquidating all of its stores and letting 30,000 employees go, the Minnesota Star-Tribune said it's filing for bankruptcy, and Citigroup posted an $8.29 billion loss for the fourth quarter, The Wall Street Journal and New York Times had big spreads on all the entertainment hoopla at Barack Obama's Presidential inauguration.

The Wall Street Journal called it, rather accurately, "The Inaugural Pregame Show." The listing of star-studded events and exhibitions is staggering, ranging from the Richard Avedon "Portraits of Power" retrospective at the Corcoran Gallery to a Clinton/Gore Alumni Reunion Bash.

Top all of that off with the Hip Hop Caucus' Icons Ball with Mary J. Blige and Common on Saturday night and a Sunday day-long musical and reading celebration at the Lincoln Memorial with Bono, Garth Brooks, Sheryl Crow, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, and Stevie Wonder.

Let's say it right now: it's gratifying that the United States has elected it first President of the United States. It's a hopeful and course-changing moment in the country's history, and I could not be more encouraged by the change in leadership at the top. A celebration is definitely merited, in my book.

But stepping back in the cold light of day, with all of this horrendous economic news hammering away at our psyche, should all this craziness be tempered down somewhat? Would more modesty be the better public relations move? Because with huge hype comes colossal expectations.

I can't help but think about renowned editor Tina Brown's overblown launch of Talk magazine in the 90's, when she had celebrities and the media shipped over to Liberty Island for a gala befitting royalty. By the second issue of the magazine, the bloom was off the rose and a couple of years later, Talk folded.

Except now we are talking about a grander stage. The country is in the middle of a financial crisis that has rippled around the globe. There is hardly a soul it has not touched. There are a tremendous amount of expectations and pressures surrounding Obama to turn all the setbacks around and get us all back on the right path. I'm all for that.

During the winter, most major corporations scaled back their holiday parties dramatically, some were cancelled, because they seemed frivilous and wasteful in light of the economic downturn. From a public relations viewpoint, those were savvy moves because otherwise, these events would have sent the wrong message to employees, investors and the media. When there are layoffs and revenues are down dramatically, you don't party it up in the corporate headquarters penthouse.

While there are plenty of reasons to celebrate history being made, you know all these inaugural events are costing millions of dollars to produce. They will equal several Super Bowl half-time shows rolled in to one. Millions and millions of children and adults will be watching from their televisions and computer screens, and listening to the radio.

A couple of days later, when the last shred of confetti is cleaned up, Obama and his team will be hard at work. Yet the specter of expectation is hanging over their heads even more glaringly because the world just spent two or three days watching real show biz, over-the-top parties, concerts and events unfold before them.

Is it good PR to wildly build up a new Presidency when there is more at stake than ever before? The Presidency is a marathon, not a sprint, to borrow that cliche. Most things in life don't live up to their hype. I hope despite the Hollywood treatment, Obama shuts it all out and is the exception to that rule and he's the real deal.

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