Thursday, April 9, 2009

President Obama: Tactical Employer

Ladies and gentlemen; welcome to the new face of the Obama administration.  No, not the respectable Asian that lost his dress shirt; the other one.  

In case you haven't heard, Kal Penn, of the infamous Harold and Kumar movie series, Van Wilder, and House, decided to leave Hollywood to join the Obama administration as an associate director in the White House Office of Public Liasion.

When I first read this, I felt shocked not by Penn's decision to leave Hollywood, but instead by the Obama administration's decision to hire him.  With such rigorous background checks that include questions like, "Have you done something that could embarrass the White House?", I felt a little surprised the administration would hire someone whose image in the public mind is a stoner in Harold and Kumar.  Don't get me wrong; I'm sure Kal Penn is an great guy.  Any person who loves politics and acting (as quoted in the Washington Post) is someone I'd buy a beer for any day of the week.  It just seemed too ironic that an administration so concerned with image would hire an individual who has at least "acted" foolishly.

However, as I thought about it a little longer, I changed my tune on the Obama administration's decision to hire Kal Penn.  He's certainly articulate, intelligent, and driven to be successful.  More importantly, the Obama administration identified key markets where Penn would be highly impactful.  According to the Washington Post article, Penn should contribute positively to the environments where he'll work; youth, arts, and Asian American communities.

The brilliant decision made by Obama and the White House was to hire an individual and selectively target him to where he can make the most impact.  Youth today know of Kumar or the dearly departed Dr. Kutner, the arts would align with his passion for acting, and his ethnic background would play well with Asian Americans.  Sure, most 45-64 year-old Republicans would hate him for the loose morals of his characters, but to the demographics the Obama will use him in...he's brilliant.

As an employer, President Obama and the White House give us all a few key lessons on hiring and branding.  These lessons can easily be applied to Gen Y, and have particular relevance as businesses try to get "the most bang for their buck" out of employees in this economic environment.  They include:
  1. Right person: A lot of organizational hiring is finding the right person for the job.  Penn, with his experience and ethnicity, is the right fit for the role and the target audience they want to reach.  How many times do we see companies "reinventing" themselves and their marketing by taking current marketing campaigns (and managers), adding a little social media, and thinking Gen Y will swoon?  It's important to match a person with relevant experience and relationship to the role to have maximum impact.
  2. Targeted (and generation specific) branding: Not all ad campaigns need to appeal to all generations.  Penn certainly won't appeal to anyone above the age of 35.  Thankfully, the Obama administration will put him in front of people under that age (and appreciate the finer humor of Harold and Kumar, Van Wilder, and House).  Companies can employ the same strategy in all areas; from marketing to management to communication, messages need to reach an intended audience in the way they respond to best.

- Mama said knock you out -

Phil Jones

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