There isn’t much in the news lately to make you smile, but a New York Times Upshot column a few days ago actually made me laugh out loud. Bylined by no less than five Times journalists, the article recounted how Dr. Anthony S. Fauci is circumventing White House efforts to muzzle him as he continues his efforts to educate us on the Coronavirus and how to stay safe and healthy during a global pandemic. It turns out that Dr. Fauci isn’t just the country’s leading infectious disease specialist, he’s also an inventive communicator who is expertly telling a story through unlikely channels, and as a result, his message is being heard and understood by people who need it most.
After March 15, when Dr. Fauci achieved a “full Ginsberg” (named after Monica Lewinsky’s attorney who appeared on all five Sunday shows in one day in 1998), the White House became concerned that he was upstaging President Trump. Dr. Fauci’s handlers began turning down requests for high-profile interviews. Not one to be deterred, Dr. Fauci responded by saying “yes” to almost every obscure outlet that asked him to speak. These included the American Urological Association, the KC O’Dea radio show, a National Geographic special on pandemics and the Economic Club of Chicago. There is no process at the White House to vet or approve smaller interview venues so Dr. Fauci has been saying “yes” to as many as he can accommodate as long as they are not fundraisers or “even remotely” political. He’s spoken to as many as five of these outlets a day, including podcasts with Lil Wayne, Julia Roberts, Matthew McConaughey and “This Week in Virology.” Not only has this strategy helped Dr. Fauci get his message out to listeners and viewers of these smaller outlets, big media like CNN and MSNBC often rebroadcast these interviews to their audiences when the news value warrants it.
As professional communicators, we can learn a valuable lesson from Dr. Fauci. When we’re unable to command a big national platform to tell our story, we can get creative and identify less well-known print and broadcast channels to deliver our message. For many of us, these small-scale opportunities offer us a chance to hone our messages, practice our delivery and still reach audiences interested in what we have to say. Even if it isn’t the New York Times, a trade publication can still be a valuable forum to amplify our message and forge a relationship with a journalist who one day may ascend to the ranks of national journalism and be an even more valuable contact in our network.
For now, Dr. Fauci is stepping back from the speaking circuit as he recovers from polyp surgery on his vocal cord (yes, he was talking too much). I, for one, am looking forward to hearing from him later in September, even though it may mean tuning into the American Urological Association podcast.