This strategy, which can be found in Charleston|Orwig’s Rules of the Road for Issues Management, often finds its way to the forefront of my thinking, particularly in an election year. Not because this approach is adopted by candidates who are running for office, but because of the almost uniform manner in which it is ignored.
In addition to ignoring an organization’s (or candidate’s) mission or beliefs, the problem with this strategy is that it can encourage the misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. Not that this approach is new. Those who are not old enough to remember the “Daisy Ad,” from the 1964 presidential campaign, may have studied it in a high school social studies or history class. The ad included a young girl picking daisies just seconds before a horrific nuclear explosion.
Simply put, the objective of the ad was to suggest, rather strongly, that Barry Goldwater, who was opposing President Johnson in the ’64 election, was in favor of nuclear war. Or, at the very least, indifferent to it.
While it is tempting to dwell on–and exploit–your opponent’s shortcomings, I would make the argument that those shortcomings are best exploited by making your position clear, rather than expending time and resources coloring your opponents position(s).
The lesson is to stand for and not against. Practice reputation management in its purest form. Make clear what you stand for. Say it transparently. Say it first. Say it often. And mean it.
And try not to make a mushroom cloud the single image for which you are best remembered.