I spoke with political pros Steve Schmidt and Bob Shrum this morning to get their assessment of the marketing communications strategy for the Obama and Romney campaigns. I wanted to understand what lessons there might be for corporate reputation or brand marketing PR people. Here are five learnings:
1) The Diverse Population—Romney lost in part because he got only 24% of the Hispanic vote and only slightly more of the Asian vote (African American vote for Obama more understandable). Schmidt was particularly critical of the media buying strategy for Romney, which had an anemic buy on Univision. There is further evidence that diversity is being recognized at the ballot box with 4 gay marriage ballot initiatives passed. Shrum noted that we now have the first lesbian in the US Senate (Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin), sighing plaintively when he said that Bush used an anti-gay ad to good effect against Kerry in 2004….”How far we have come,” he noted. Companies that “celebrate diversity and have an inclusive brand will go far,” Shrum said.
2) Go Early, Go Big—Obama’s early ad buy aimed at painting Romney as a heartless financial man was effective in cementing the opposition viewpoint before he had time to position himself. “In a saturated advertising environment, where all ads become political wall paper, early ads can dominate because they create a lasting impression,” Shrum noted. The conventional wisdom for campaigns has been to reserve your money for the last two months of the campaign, closer to the event, Schmidt said. That must now be re-evaluated because the advent of Super-PACs and late spending now causes over-concentration at the end….an example is one Cincinnati news broadcast that between local and national news half hours had 22 political ads.
3) Social Media as Diagnostic for Micro-Targeting—Field organizing is no longer a “blunderbuss,” said Shrum, “it can be done with precision.” The Obama campaign could do cross-tabulation on those in social communities who are frequent visitors to Chipotle, have photos of hiking trips and are active in social media to do properly targeted ads. “You should not be concerned about sending an environmental message to one person and a foreign policy ad to the neighbor. It’s ok if they talk about it in person or on line. Just make sure the micro ads are coordinated with big message advertising,” Shrum noted.
4) Be Out There—Schmidt said that Obama did best when he was out in front during Hurricane Sandy, hugging those who had suffered losses, making a strong commitment to build back in front of government workers and utilities responsible for the repairs. “There is a big lesson here for CEOs, to get out of the bubble. You also must have people in the inner circle who tell you the truth,” Schmidt said.
5) Enough is Enough—Linda McMahon lost in her bid for the Senate seat in Connecticut in part because she relied too heavily on advertising. At some point, TV viewers were exhausted by the negative ads on her opponent as a job killer.
The political silly season is an important theater for all of us to observe. We can learn much from the use of social media and timing of spend. But we must always remember that we are playing for the long run, that our clients are not running for anything more than license to operate.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO
Image by LWVC