The West Wing and the Power of “Communication”

Posted by on March 5th, 2013

Earlier this month a friend suggested I start watching The West Wing, so I hunkered down with a bag of frosted animal crackers and my Netflix Instant Queue to begin what would quickly devolve into a Rob Lowe induced hibernation.

I’m now re-emerging from the binge with a clear directive: If you work in, with or around the media, watch The West Wing.

The show is a completely re-energizing statement about the power of “communication.” I say “communication” (in quotes) because it’s a nebulous concept—it can mean anything from issuing an official press release to branding an organization in the wake of a crisis to analyzing a person’s body language on a coffee date.

The West Wing affirms the power of “communication” in all of its aforementioned iterations.

Let me back up for a second. I work for a communications firm on behalf of diverse clients. When my job is at its best, I have a unique opportunity to say something important—and say it well. There have been moments in which I’ve been able to transmit information in a totally practical and tangibly commodifiable way. I’ve used words to sell something, convince somebody or make something better.

The West Wing’s ethos reverberates within that possibility; the show examines and extols what it means to materially “communicate” an idea. To get in a room with some smart people and use words and stories to not only say something, but to actually CHANGE things. DO something. It’s not all hot air. Or maybe it is hot air—but it’s hot air that’s being effectively channeled to fly a bunch of really cool balloons. There’s a purpose and a point, and the words are the power.

I found myself genuinely inspired by that intersection, that space where action and articulation are mutually constructive and at work for the public good. The show offers a realization through which I think we can all approach our work: “Rhetoric matters. Words matter. Spin matters. That’s influence. That’s effective leadership.”

In a legendary exemplification of this principle, at the end of the first episode we’re introduced to the President as he barrels into a room, overrides his political adversaries and re-focuses his staff with stories. He was communicating. And he was brilliant.

Whether it’s on the East side or from the West Wing, that’s what we do—what we can and should do—as “communications” professionals. Turn ideas into action through words. Do the right thing and say the right thing; do the right thing by saying the right thing.

I challenge us all to spend some quality time with The West Wing, confronting and re-imagining the potential of that power: the power of “communication.”