Thursday, October 30, 2008

New York Times Magazine Article Looks at McCain's Campaign: The Making (and Remaking and Remaking) of the Candidate -- fascinating

Our agency's slogan is "Why the Story Matters," and has been for eight years because we think our clients' stories important -- important as a part of their brand, important as a component to their messaging and positioning, important to generate interest among reporters. We spend a lot of time upfront and at regular intervals to refine clients' stories.

I bring this up because there's a fascinating article in the New York Times Magazine about the McCain Campaign: "The Making (and Remaking) of McCain" by Robert Draper. The premise of the article, supported by quotes from senior McCain advisers and anecdotes, is that a big challenge that McCain campaign has had is in developing the right narrative to use in describing McCain and the reason to elect McCain as president.

This article is not a look at his personality, experience, political record, ideology, fund raising, etc. Instead, the article could almost be a look at a troubled marketing campaign.

Which is why I think it's instructive to PR and marketing pros.

Here are some relevant lessons:
  • Develop a story that defines the candidate/company/product, but also gives you room to adapt. With the McCain campaign, they kept picking messages that didn't necessarily connect to the previous messages; claiming the surge is working in Iraq did not connect to the message that Barack Obama is the world's biggest celebrity but isn't ready to lead.
  • Changing the story line makes it difficult to develop traction in the minds of voters/consumers/shareholders.
  • You need a story and messages that give people a reason to buy your product/company -- not just a reason to not buy the competing product/company.
  • The story has to make sense to key stakeholders. With the addition of Palin to the ticket, the McCain campaign changed its message from readiness to change. The selection of Palin certainly meant change, but voters may be feeling that McCain's been in Washington, for too long to represent change. (One might make the case that in selecting Joe Biden that Obama was picking the status quo and was not making the case for change. I'm surprised the McCain campaign did not make more of that.)
  • Brands live or die by their integrity -- or in the case of the McCain campaign, but the character of the candidate. Savvy marketing organizations, like Procter & Gamble, spend a great deal of effort on brand management, making sure that their brands stands for something, and that all consumer touch points reinforce the values and personality of the brand. The article makes the case that the McCain campaign was desperate enough to score points, that it decided to launch negative ads -- even though McCain had renounced negative ads after his failed 2000 campaign had been beaten by the negative campaign ran by George W. Bush (and Karl Rove). If a brand is to have meaning, it needs to consistently reinforce the brand value; launching negative ads undercut the meaning of McCain's brand.
A lot of good lessons for brand managers, marketers and PR professionals.

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