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Richard Levick

November 12, 2019

A National Press Club Speech On the Rule of Law & Soft Power

Whenever I walk the halls of the National Press Club (NPC), especially the 13th floor, where the restaurants and conference rooms are, it always takes my breath away. Hundreds if not thousands of photographs adorn the walls, including presidents and prime ministers, newsmakers all. There’s Ernie Pyle, the World War II photographer, who died with his doughboys on Ie Island near Okinawa, who truly brought the war home; Bill Clinton all alone and deep in troubled thought, standing between the White House’s neoclassical portico columns; Desmond Tutu captured up-close in a moment of his infectious joy and humanity; Barbara Bush with her own infectious smile; a paraplegic Christopher Reeve still smiling, and the faces of so many caught at the moment of rescue or defeat. It’s its own time capsule.

I’ve spoken before at the NPC, but this was the first time I was alone on stage, to kick off the National Press Club’s 2019 Communications Summit, which featured Mike McCurry, the White House press secretary under President Clinton. Regardless of all the things we do in this life, sometimes we still need to pinch ourselves.

I was asked to speak about the implications for communicators when legal issues affecting the industry are in flux or evolving. I covered specific statutes such as FARA and the FCPA, as well as broader issues such as the #MeToo movement, employee empowerment, privacy and the Rule of Law.

To me, the most interesting issue is soft power – the ability of elected officials and executives to get countries, institutions and people to follow their lead by example. George Washington is often praised for his leadership, but few of us focus on his larger-than-life soft power. Designing the first military uniforms of a new nation to help make our Continental Army look like an army; going to churches, temples and mosques regularly despite his ambivalence about religion; forgoing his wealth and privilege to help form a new nation. In this age of disruption, rather than think with scarcity (“where’s mine?”), job number one is to look in the mirror and reflect how we lead, regardless of where we think we are in the power dynamic. We all have soft power, majority and minority, employer and employee, leader and follower. What we do next matters.

I hope you enjoy the video.

Richard Levick

Watch: 2019 National Press Club Communicators’ Summit – Welcome and Keynote Address

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