This isn’t a post about politics. It’s about reputation management strategy. It’s about having the proper strategic intelligence to know what messages your opponent is likely to use and how to remove those options from an opponent’s consideration set. After all, without sound intelligence regarding opposing messages, any contentious communications campaign is doomed.
Since it is the political season–a season that can’t end fast enough for me–political campaigns offer fertile ground for examples of great and not-so-great messaging and strategy.
Ron Johnson is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Wisconsin against longtime incumbent Russ Feingold. If you don’t already know, and are so moved, it certainly is easy enough to find out the political party affiliations of the candidates. However, political philosophy is not germane to my strategic and messaging observations, so I’ve left the party affiliations of the candidates out of this post.
Generally speaking, political candidates and those of us who ply our trade in the private sector have a pretty good idea of what type of messages our opponents are likely to lob our way. The magic lies in how to, in a factual and ethical manner, render those messages moot or at least less credible.
Such is the case with the Feingold-Johnson race. As a Johnson television spot began the other day, I winced as I prepared myself for the same old negative attack ad that is long on flash and hyperbole, but short on strategy and relevant information.
But as the spot unfolded, what Johnson started to say was interesting. Rather than wait for the opposition to forward its point of view on a specific issue and then respond, Johnson tells us what future opposition messages will say about his comments, takes responsibility for saying them and explains the rationale behind his statements.
Johnson’s spot is an example of the kind of communication to which all of us who are involved in a contentious media relations debate aspire: Engage in proactive messaging that answers an opponent’s charge before it even is made. In other words, winning a battle before it’s fought.
As hard as it is to sit through a barrage of political ads–even the few good ones–the Johnson spot offers all of us a fundamental messaging lesson.