Preparing for a President

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By Jason Forget, Corporate Reputation Manager, GE & Assembly Delegate, PRSA Capital Region Chapter

January 21st, 2010 is a day I will never forget. This was the day I got to see a sitting President less than 30 feet away from me.

Even more memorable than January 21st were January 16-20th. These were the 200 most grueling hours of my professional career, and also the most rewarding (see January 21st above).

As part of the GE Energy communications team I had the honor and pleasure of working with some of the most talented communications professionals in the discipline, both from our GE Energy team and the White House.

Our GE leadership team of Jim Healy (General Manager, Communications, GE Energy aka: “The Boss”), Dan Nelson (Director of Public Relations and Public Affairs, GE Energy aka: “My Boss”) and Chris Horne (Communications and Community Relations Manager, GE Energy aka: “The Straw that stirred the whole drink”) did an excellent job of taking the lead on coordinating everything that needed to be done from security to signage, managing the teams with Swiss watch like precision.

To go through the blow by blow of every day would literally take me another 200 hours to write, but here are a few of the key lessons I took away from the visit:

  1. Never underestimate the value of your team members. You really can’t do it all yourself, and maintaining calm under pressure is the best way to get things done. The other benefit is you get to learn the strengths of members of your team that you might not otherwise work with in your “day job”. They can be a good resource well after the event.
  2. Your job title and educational pedigree don’t amount to a hill of beans. While my title at the time was communications specialist and I have degrees from all across the land, all of my work was logistical. I spent my best 200 hours laying out parking plans and entry and exit pathways, and checking in VIPs and media. I relied heavily on our security professionals for help with this one since it wasn’t my forte.
  3. 3. Precision is everything: One of my primary responsibilities, aside from those noted above, was to create a, literally, minute-by-minute rundown of every movement of every GE Energy Senior Executive on campus that day. On top of the President visiting, we also had Jeff Immelt, our Chairman and CEO on campus ahead of the President’s visit doing the GE earnings call. This meant ensuring we had all of his movements nailed down and vehicles ready to move with him at any moment.
  4. 4. Expect the unexpected: While this is a little cliché, it’s ultimately very true. By the time the day started on the 21st, I had created 19 different versions of the rundown. And as it would happen even parts of that fell apart at certain points as things shifted throughout the day. To work on an event like this you really either have to be comfortable with ambiguity, or learn to get comfortable with it real quickly.

This was undoubtedly one of the best experiences of my career. If I had any one last piece of advice if you have the opportunity to host a President: Soak in and savor every moment. It might be the greatest opportunity to take part in U.S. history you’ll ever have in your career.

P.S. Don’t mess with the Secret Service, they’re for real!

Editor’s note: Don’t forget, our “When the President Drops by…” event is this Monday, Feb. 28! Chris Horne from GE will be one of the panelists. Click here for details!

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