In this time of uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, many have found a beacon of trust in Dr. Anthony Fauci. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, Dr. Fauci has been a top adviser to six presidents on public health issues, including HIV/AIDS, Ebola and Zika.
Despite the vast scientific and technical information that he must communicate, Dr. Fauci now has become a household name. Moreover, he can deliver crucial medical science in plain English. Why has he become so popular and successful?
During my more than 40 years as a public relations professional, I have seen that some of the best media spokespersons have many of the same attributes, regardless of background, platform or philosophy. These include:
- Trustworthiness – Authenticity and honesty result in favorability, and then the public will see a spokesperson as credible. Dr. Fauci has impeccable credentials, as an example, but he admits that he does not know everything. People often do not agree with his viewpoints, but they can tell that he sincerely believes his message. His relationship with the media appears to be driven by his genuine sense of mission as a public health servant.
- Relatability – Know that when speaking, the goal is not to impress the interviewer, colleagues, family or friends. Instead, the goal is to establish a direct relationship with those reading or hearing your message. Dr. Fauci has an innate talent to connect with people of all ages, particularly millennials. He remains respectful, calm, presentable and does not “talk down” to anyone.
- Focus – Providing consistent, ongoing messaging is crucial. The use of soundbites, stories and statistics make messages emotional and relevant. One million deaths are just numbers; one death is a tragedy. I often tell clients that it is not the questions that matter; instead, it is the answers. In other words, if you get 10 seconds on the nightly news, think about what you want people to hear. Start with the headline in mind. Dr. Fauci has a keen ability to stay on and bridge back to his key messages, which generally include the current data, projections, takeaways and action items.
Vendors are now using Dr. Fauci’s face to sell shirts (one emblazoned with the words “In Fauci We Trust”), socks and doughnuts. There is even a Dr. Fauci bobblehead.
An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll shows 60% of Americans trust what he says about the COVID-19 outbreak. Dr. Fauci has become somewhat of a national hero, and there is much to be learned from such transparency, style and delivery.
Want to be better prepared for your next media interview? Cooksey Communications can help.