Lessons Learned From the Campaign

So, now we are free of “I approved this message” and all of the other grating aspects of the 2008 Presidential Campaign.  But, I’m still being asked what our clients can learn from the successes of the Obama campaign. There are lessons for communicators, but first, to borrow another campaign phrases, there are some “fundamental differences” between political PR and the rest of us that must be spelled out before looking at what could be learned from the winning campaign.

Importantly, political PR boils down to making your guy look good.  Often, to get there, it’s about making the other guy look bad.  They really aren’t as concerned with communicating to customers and stakeholders, because their relationship with voters is generally transactional.  Political types try to “win the day” rather than think long-term (because it’s all about a sprint to an election finish).  They also frequently rely on press releases to tout their candidates’ every move.

All of that said, there are some important takeaways from the Obama campaign that could help anyone’s communications:

-They developed an emotional message and stayed on message.  From the beginning, it was about “change” and “hope.”  It never wavered.  They developed their rational messages to support the emotional ones that got them the nomination.  Lesson learned: we recommend that clients develop messages and stick with them over time, because it often takes time for them to resonate.  Never mind that “change” and “hope” were the themes of Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992.  That didn’t matter because…

-They embraced the younger demographics and rode them all the way until November.  The 18-33 year-olds couldn’t vote in 1992, it was all new to them.  These Americans received the messages via every possible platform and many even opted-in to receive the messages daily (even becoming donors along the way).  Lesson learned:  Generations X and Y have power – political and monetary and influence online that can be a difference-maker for virtually any communications campaign.

-The brand.  The brand.  The brand.  The campaign created a brand – a logo, a voice, a face and that’s what the majority of Americans voted for.  Even if you couldn’t support Obama the man (and many couldn’t at first  because 5 years ago he was an unknown and his Senate tenure was too short to run on) – the majority of you supported the Obama brand.  In many ways, this was the most “corporate” campaign than any Presidential race in history.  The candidate, in this case, was the visible CEO of a deeply emotional brand identity. Lesson learned:  invest in your brand and consistently communicate it in every way.