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Missed Opportunities

by dhuey

In today’s hyper connected culture, campaigns are vying for the attention of voters among an increasingly large and dynamic pool of competition. By re-thinking and re-working traditional activities in a modern context, campaigns are creating new opportunities to define themselves.

An announcement speech is one of the most traditional campaign functions. Today, this is little more than a formality and a moderately important opportunity for earned media. Reporters, bloggers, and party insiders have pegged the candidate for a run long before they reach the podium. As a result, these events are often checked off as a preliminary hoop to jump through rather than an opportunity to brand the candidate.

Recently RedState blogger Eric Erickson tweeted this video of Pete Domenici Jr.’s recent announcement speech. This announcement speech was a lost opportunity for an otherwise seemingly well-run campaign. Set against an incredibly bland backdrop, reading standard lines this speech does nothing to engage voters. Furthermore, the only publicly available footage is grainy and of low resolution.

Given today’s strong anti-incumbent environment, the image in this particular video is less than appealing. Why not have the candidate against a uniquely relevant backdrop that serves to convey his or her unique story? Obama’s memorable speeches were powerful largely because of their settings. The images of his speech from the steps of the Illinois State Capitol on a cold February morning were the gift that kept on giving. They allowed the campaign to underscore Obama’s outsider mantra and helped to establish the historic overtones of his campaign.

Voters want to see a narrative. Every public appearance, every news story, and every image should be viewed as a way to hammer home this unique narrative. If a candidate is from an area hit hard by the recession, why not have the candidate deliver the announcement speech from a local factory? During the spring and summer of 2008, energy issues were on the minds of many voters. Depending on the dynamics, a backdrop of an oilrig, refinery or distribution center may have been appropriate. Voters are giving candidates less and less time, every communication must not only be on message but also in context.

Yes, it is necessary for campaigns to have a presence with web video. However, as with every form of advertising, a particularly poor product can do more to damage a campaign than help it. The lesson here for managers is that regardless of conventional wisdom, (and what your consultants may tell you) unless you’re prepared to do it well, don’t do it.