Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Why you need good content to win

You need better content.

If you’re a savvy communications strategist or a whiz-bang writer who knows the value of good content, then you already know everything I’m about to say.

This is for everyone else.

4551538712_c8251a67b0_zDuring the 2014 election cycle, I watched in frustration as far too many campaigns didn’t make their case as well as they might. They didn’t let the candidate’s true principles and personality show through. It was hidden behind carefully crafted talking points that were message-tested within an inch of their lives.

Too many candidates couched their positions in what they thought voters wanted to hear, instead of saying what they really believed.

Too many candidates focused on what they were against instead of running on what they stood for. Opposition messaging is part of the game in politics, but it shouldn’t be the whole ballgame. So we never really got to know who some of these men and women were. We only knew that they wanted you to vote against their opponents.

Who got it right? Senator Al Franken of Minnesota leaps to mind. So does Senator-elect Gary Peters of Michigan. Both of these winning campaigns illuminated the candidates’ humanity, a word used by Sen. Franken’s digital director, my friend Sara Cederberg, to describe what’s at the heart of good messaging. I could not agree more.

Al+FranniFor example, Sen. Franken was frequently shown with his wife, Franni, telling stories of their life and work together. This photo of Al, Franni and their first grandson, Joseph, is at the top of the “Meet Al” page of the campaign website. The campaign gets bonus points for putting a button on every blog post that says “I care about this,” so supporters could instantly share content that reinforced their own values. The tone was consistently warm, friendly and fun where appropriate, yet serious when it needed to be. The campaign team found just the right balance.

In one of the best TV ads of the campaign cycle, Sen.-elect Peters showed off his favorite raggedy sweatshirt and worn-out shoes while his family teased him about being frugal. It was an entertaining spot that helped him drive home his message about careful spending. See for yourself.

When I was volunteering by making phone calls to voters in Michigan, one woman said, “Tell Gary Peters I just love that ad with the shoes! He should make more like that.” A refreshing change from the majority of comments I heard about people being sick of negative campaign ads.

That’s not to say that these candidates didn’t go on the offensive. Although their emphasis was on what they were fighting for, they talked about what they were fighting against. But they did it with solid facts about policy, not personal attacks.

What’s true for campaigns is just as true for any endeavor that requires persuasion. People want to feel an affinity for your candidate, your cause, your product. One of the very best ways to do that is through storytelling. Both campaigns did this extremely well.

Start with a clear mission statement and brand identity, which applies to both people and products. Then tell the story of the brand and make your mission clear. Everything else — social media, emails, videos, speeches, media interviews — builds on that. Keep the messaging disciplined and stay on point, absolutely. But never forget there’s a personality behind the brand, especially if there’s a person involved.

3957524793_cabbf8da6e_zSure, you need to know your audience. Factor in all the data and demographics that can help you tailor the message and target the right people. But your brand’s message comes first, always.

And don’t forget the details. Quality content matters, whether you’re writing a speech, a blog post, an ad or a tweet. Be consistent, be authentic and be accurate. We can all make mistakes, but spelling and grammar still count — especially when you want to persuade someone that you’re the best person for the job.

Most of all, be human. Let your brand’s humanity shine through. Interact with your audience on a personal level. Because in the end, if you’re going to win you need people to choose you, whether you’re a politician or a product. Give them something they can relate to. Make them like you enough to say “yes.”

[Typewriter photos by Steven Depolo (top) and Leo Reynolds (bottom).]

Love and politics

I grew up in what you could call a two-party home. It wasn’t that one parent was necessarily a staunch Republican and the other a die-hard Democrat. They often switched sides so, really, they were independents. But they almost always canceled out each other’s votes and had lively debates (translation: arguments) about the issues.

Here’s one thing they agreed on, though, and it’s the principle that’s really stuck with me: You don’t vote for the party. You vote for the candidate whose values you support. You vote for whoever you think is the best person for the job.

This hasn’t only informed my voting decisions. It’s shaped my view of how our government works, about how our leaders should work together, about what’s possible when people put aside their differences and work for the common good.

Love and politics

My parents visiting Washington, D.C., on their honeymoon.

When you get right down to it, marriages and politics aren’t really all that different. There are negotiations. There are disagreements. There are good times and bad. There are issues where you’ll find common ground and others that will be a point of contention. There are days when you won’t even feel like speaking to each other and other days when your unity is the only thing that matters. In the end, though, a good marriage remains strong because for all the arguments or conflicts or grievances, you’re part of something bigger. The common good — the love you share, the vows you’ve taken, the family you’ve created — is more important than who left the cap off the toothpaste.

I firmly believe the same is true in politics. I think most people who run for office do it because they want to make a commitment to something bigger than themselves: their community, their country, their corner of the world. They want to serve with others who believe that our world can be a better place when we work together instead of against each other.

This is why I believe in the power of bipartisanship. Our country has been divided at times, as it certainly is today, but it has always managed to come back together. Good people have put country before party and worked together to create compromise, to solve problems and find solutions that unite us and make us stronger as a result.

Love and politics

Me, 64 years after my parents’ honeymoon.

We have a lot of work to do, it’s true. And it begins with each of us, with the desire to put petty partisanship aside and remember that we are stronger together. We have to be willing to accept each other’s differences, to live and let live in a country where everyone has the freedom to choose their destiny.

If every single citizen agreed to stop fighting about ideological differences and searched for common ground, that groundswell could eventually reach our leaders. We can tell them how we feel by writing letters, making phone calls or gathering peacefully outside their offices. We can tell them how we feel with our votes, by electing people who will work together instead of against each other.

It starts with each of us. My parents taught me that you don’t always have to agree to love each other or work as a team. Disagreements can be part of eventually reaching a compromise. You can have strong convictions and you don’t have to give them up. But sometimes, you have to concede just a bit. You can hold fast to your personal beliefs without imposing them on others.

If our leaders truly love our country — which should be the only reason they run for office in the first place — then they should put it ahead of everything else, and work together to find solutions that make our country stronger.

Because if we don’t move forward together, we’ll never get anywhere.


I wrote this as I prepared to attend the Meeting to Make America Work! hosted by No Labels, an organization founded to foster bipartisan problem-solving in Washington. 

For, not against

I’ve always thought it’s better to say what you stand for instead of what you’re against. But it isn’t always easy to do.

As I wrote recently, I think communicating the strengths of your own merits beats beating up the other guy. Not just in writing but in life: It’s more powerful to say what you believe in instead of arguing against what you don’t.

But yesterday I was feeling a little raw. People were annoying me in general, and some political commentary I heard was the last straw. What was said doesn’t matter, but I was feeling angry at “the other side” for trying to put a negative spin on the President’s efforts to create jobs.

This was my frame of mind as I went to my first night of making phone calls as a volunteer for Organizing for America, doing my part to help President Obama’s re-election campaign. I vented for a minute to my fellow volunteers who were, well, understandably understanding. Then we all got to work. I spoke with supporters of the President and the positive energy quickly erased my mood.

For, not against

But what really helped me reframe how I’d been thinking was a conversation with Melissa Bernardi, who is my county’s regional field director for Organizing for America–Michigan. I told her how good it felt to be talking with others who believe in the President, taking positive action instead of arguing with the folks who had frustrated me earlier.

Maybe she read my mind a little bit or (more likely) she just knows how these things work. But our subsequent conversation reminded me that no matter how great the temptation to lash out at those we oppose, it’s much more productive to just keep saying what we believe in and why. To share the facts about why we support the President — and, perhaps even more important, to let our genuine enthusiasm for what we’re doing shine through.

It’s very possible that what had me so frustrated with the President’s opponents was their negativity. It just wore me down. But my evening of volunteering reinforced the power of the President’s optimism. As Melissa has rightly said before, every volunteer is essentially speaking on behalf of the President, helping to get his message out while he’s busy doing his job.

President Obama’s persistent hope, even in the face of daily negative energy from every corner, is reassuring. It sets an example that if he can remain an optimist — while still telling the truth about his opponents, albeit with great civility — I have no excuse for turning negative.

I won’t stop speaking my mind and speaking the truth. But I’ll remember that a positive attitude, combined with positive action, will get much more done than pessimism ever could.

« « View Older Posts