05 March 2008

A very good night for traditional media

It seems rumors of Senator Clinton's death are greatly exaggerated. While she didn't appear to gain much ground in the delegate count, she earned three important primary wins in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island that essentially allow her to continue campaigning through to Pennsylvania on April 22 and claim some momentum and attention.

There are only two primaries before then - Wyoming and Mississipi. So we're looking at a relatively quiet time - unless you're in Pennsylvania, which is about to be bombarded with television ads from Democrats.

Some quick takeaways from last night's victories for Senator Clinton:
  • Many people think Senator Clinton is a good candidate. I think it's important to note she has a very loyal base of support, particularly among older women, and that's not going away. If you want to get heavily into demographics, she got strong support from Latinos in Texas and Catholics in Rhode Island last night. I don't know that she does anything special to target those communities, but they clearly responded to her last night.
  • Strong internal communication is absolutely critical. The biggest mistake this time came from the Obama campaign in Ohio in regards to his position on NAFTA - and it has nothing to do with his position on NAFTA. The candidate wasn't aware that an economic adviser on his team met with a group at the Canadian consulate, and said no meeting took place. Then a memo surfaced indicating it had. The adviser stuck to Senator Obama's position during the meeting - that NAFTA must be changed - and in essence the whole flap was much ado about nothing. But the campaign stumbled trying to explain this away, and the Clinton campaign was quick to pounce on the error, allowing the media to openly speculate that perhaps Senator Obama was telling the voters of Ohio one thing and the government of Canada another. We all know how sensitive the issues of trade and employment are in this heavily industrial state, and this was just enough to tip undecided voters there toward Senator Clinton.
  • Negative campaigning works. No, this wasn't morphing a picture of Max Cleland into a picture of Osama bin Laden. But the Clinton campaign successfully scared enough voters into voting against Senator Obama on the issue of NAFTA in Ohio and on the issue of terrorism in Texas. She needs to be very careful here, but the campaign accomplished some short-term goals with some good ol' fashioned scare tactics in the form of saturation TV ads and really working the press hard.
Why does this matter to business? Replace "Obama" with your brand. Imagine a well-regarded competitor pounces on a relatively small internal communications snafu about, say, siting a new facility or negotiating with a foreign government on a contract. Then that competitor browbeats the media into "taking a closer look" at your brand, while going on a media barnstorm of softball national gigs like Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show. Where is your brand after that? And in the cutthroat world of global business, is this really that hard to imagine?

Politically, we're in a very odd time. Senator McCain is the Republican nominee now, and he has nothing to do but solidify his base, raise (and save) money, and throw rhetorical lobs at Democrats. We're looking at six weeks at a minimum of a contested Democratic race. I honestly thought we'd see a very long time of two presumptive nominees, thanks to the early primary dates this year. I also thought social media would be the difference-maker during this time, when money is a finite resource and creativity is a valuable commodity.

But that hasn't happened yet and probably won't for a while. So score one for the traditional tactics of TV ads, mainstream media and negative-ish campaigning.

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