Katie Britt's Speech: A Masterclass in Communications Disasters
Jason Michael | SVP, Public Relations

Ask any one of the last three Democrats running for one of Florida’s Senate seats and they’ll tell you the same thing—it’s never good when people say Marco Rubio was better than you. 

But that was the least of Rep. Katie Britt’s (R-Alabama) problems last night as she began trending on X (the artist formerly known at Twitter) for her response to President Biden’s State of the Union address. 

Look, Britt and I are the same age, and I would have been dripping sweat just thinking about speaking to millions of people. So, I guess give her credit for volunteering, right? It’s never an enviable task to be the one speaking for an entire party in the minority, especially one with a long history of rake stepping. Talking about you, Rubio and Bobby Jindal. Both once rising stars in the Republican party—much like Britt—their respective responses to President Barack Obama’s 2013 and 2016 State of the Unions stalled their political careers and are still ripe for mockery. 

All three politicians no doubt spent weeks preparing for their moment, but sometimes over preparing—or preparing the wrong way—can turn your presentation into devastation. 

Scroll through X and millions of people will share what they think Britt did wrong, but from the public relations lens, here’s what gave me anxiety thinking about WTF her media training team was thinking:

  1. Optics – Out of the gate, this made my head hurt. Yes, it is WILDLY unfair that powerful and successful women are held to a different standard than men. But for a political party desperately trying to appeal to the female voter, having Britt give her speech in a kitchen was a little too on the nose. Both Rubio and Jindal spoke to America in suits with the American flag draped behind them. Britt sat at a kitchen table in a barren kitchen sans a lone tea kettle on the stove. Out of the gate, Britt was set up for criticism and an example of a Democratic talking point that Republicans’ view women as lesser than men. 
  2. Authenticity – In a world where AI is more prevalent than ever, this speech felt like we were watching a Neuralink patient being controlled by ChatGPT (if you are unaware of what either of these terms mean, you are welcome to use the Google machine). Oftentimes, it’s not what you’re saying but HOW you’re saying it that matters. Ask my wife, who reminds me daily that I’m not in the doghouse for WHAT I said, but HOW I said it. Britt’s tone and inflection were all over the map. She would be laughing, whispering, crying and raising her voice all within a 30-second window. It looked like a leaked Grey’s Anatomy audition, and her message was being lost by an inconsistent delivery. The entire speech felt overproduced and inauthentic, a crippling combination when trying to persuade. Real emotion can connect with your audience and make them feel empathy. But when you look like you’re gunning for the lead role of Sandy in the junior high production of “Grease,” authenticity and impact go out the door. 
  3. Know Your Audience – In today’s politically-charged environment, everything you say will be dissected—on social media, by the other party, the media and even your own party. This is especially true with the State of the Union and the official response, where just one slip lets everyone pounce and bury any good you may have achieved. In her speech, Britt wasn’t speaking to the core Republican base or Biden supporters. She was speaking to independents and Nikki Haley voters, trying to convince them to vote for Donald Trump in November. A core Republican talking point in this election cycle has been immigration, which made it a no-brainer that Britt spoke heavily on the topic. The problem was she used real-world examples of sexual assault when doing so, a curious move when Trump was just found liable for sexual abuse and ordered to pay more than $80M to his victim. When you’re desperate to attract female voters, reminding them that the GOP nominee is accused of the very thing you’re highlighting is a backfire.

But then again, maybe this was just a masterclass in speech delivery. While an overwhelming majority of viewers said Biden did a great job on his speech and had confidence in the direction of the country, all anyone seems to be talking about is Britt’s disaster of a response.

In that case, great job. No notes.

Jason Michael
Jason Michael, 175 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal
Privacy Policy | All rights reserved. © 2024 ELASTICITY