Testing the US Presidential campaign against 6 communications tenets


In the end, Mitt Romney won perhaps just that first presidential debate.

How does the US Presidential election look, and how do Barack Obama and Mitt Romney score, when measured by six communications tenets? Let’s take a look.

Everyone can be your ambassador and advocate: probably equal, although President Obama’s organization seemingly had more resources and a larger budget to deploy. In a political battle there will always be advocates prepared, willing and able to act as surrogates, so the decision is whether to consolidate and empower your fans, or work out how to turn the opponents’.

Be clear, concise, cogent, often. Obama was clearer on policy and messages. Romney fell into the trap of opposing the past four years without providing the concise alternative policy plan. The incumbent will always have the slightly easier task because he has something to talk about (or even apologize for). The challenger has to start from scratch, unless a well-though set of policies and a well-planned comms strategy is developed.

Include the financial objective:  an Obama win, in that, despite history being against him on jobless numbers and the overall state of the economy, he still had both to use to set a context for the next four years. The difference is he did talk about his plans to fix the economy, and has already talked to Congressional leaders about the risk of the forthcoming ‘fiscal cliff’. Romney was, again, vague, non-committal and prevaricated in his communications.

Work how to let go, comms moves too quickly: even on this. Both camps understood the need for quick reaction and a looser rein. But to have a looser rein, you need a clear comms strategy with everyone committed to it and its ideals.

Comms = emotion + facts: even. American politicians do visionary rhetoric quite well. You do need the facts, though. See above.

Create value, then help people find it: Obama. Having an opposing view is not quite enough. There’s little long-term value in saying “this is wrong, we’ll do better”. You have to say, “this is wrong, here’’ how we will make things better”, and then outline the value. Romney didn’t have the “how” to the same degree that Obama had.

So by this reckoning, Obama won 3-0, with 3 tied. For all the commentary about this being a contentious and bitter campaign based on personal attacks, it seems that President Obama once again understood the tenets of communication and policy development better than Mitt Romney.

One final observation; authenticity eventually wins out. Create a position that reflects your actual world view, by all means develop and refine it for public consumption, in language that you believe makes it resonate with the audience you seek to convince, but retain that distinct authenticity within it. Then stick to it.

About alansmithoz

Head of Strategic Business Communications at Australian social analytics technology company Digivizer, with a background in corporate public relations and marketing. I do what I do because I believe communications can make a difference.
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