Comms strategy 101

The start of the current round of US Presidential primaries reminds us of the impact strategic communications can have on any campaign, political or corporate.

The benchmark, certainly in how social media were first engaged in a politically meaningful sense, remains Barack Obama’s first Presidential campaign, in both the primaries and the election itself, in long-ago 2008.

Re-reading the book Barack, Inc., by Barry Libert and Rick Faulk, published in 2009, provides interesting insights into the rigour, planning, and adept execution of Barack Obama’s campaign, and reminds us of how much of this remains valid to this day.


At the core of the campaign’s success was the ruthless self-assessment by Obama and his campaign managers that he was very much the under-dog, particularly when competing against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Clinton (then as now) was part of a political dynasty, had blanket brand awareness, and was funded to the hilt.

This is a familiar commercial scenario, especially for companies launching new products or entering new markets.

And it’s the archetypal play for disruptors. His deployment of social media and real-time digital strategies and tactics was designed explicitly to claw back the advantage. The commercial comparisons remain obvious and relevant.

In their chapter on Obama’s use of the social web Libert and Faulk list the following lessons learned from the campaign:

  • cultivate grassroots
  • create a seamless community
  • nurture your lists (in social terms this translates to your Followers across all social channels)
  • allow your new grassroots to grow into every crevice [we would add, support and equip them in this]
  • arm yourself against cheap shots but don’t take them yourself
  • turn CRM into what they called customer-managed relationships (CMR)  [a new concept then, and one we believe still has merit to this day]
  • make your marketing mobile [which of course has come true!]

This remains a useful template for any social-led campaign. What’s changed dramatically since 2008/2009 has been the rise of real-time analytics as part of what makes social marketing, social selling and social-led business development effective.

And the use of analytics in communications strategy and communications execution needs to transcend the social media space, to all forms of communications. We can take our cues (and should) from the analytical overtones and undertones of the social web. We should have a clear answer to the question, “What’s the objective here? How do we define and measure success?”

The picture becomes complete if you create a fully-integrated communications strategy. For a politician, the campaign engine drives an election. For a commercial organization, it drives customer retention, business development, and profit enhancement.

Ask Obama.

(Barack, Inc., by Barry Libert & Rick Faulk, published in 2009 by FT Press.)

(A version of this blog post was first published at


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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