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Articulating a Presidential Narrative

October 28th, 2008

When this election cycle ends, the defining buzz word may very well be “presidential narrative” – a consistent, powerful storyline to power a campaign.

The contenders in the primaries arguably fell because they lacked a presidential narrative. Mitt Romney lost because he did not have a defining storyline, while Hilary Clinton’s “I’m a Fighter” rallying cry developed too late in her campaign. Barack Obama, on the other hand, persevered in the primaries with his consistent message of bringing change to Washington – a storyline that has remained central to his campaign for the White House.

Both presidential candidates have strong personal narratives that resonate with the general public – John McCain as an American patriot and dedicated civil servant; Barack Obama as a symbol of the American Dream. But the two take divergent communications approaches to articulating their presidential narrative. Obama’s message of change has served as the foundation of his campaign and has remained forceful throughout his campaigning. In comparison, the McCain campaign has adjusted its narrative at several occasions in response to current events amidst a changing political landscape. As reported by the New York Times, McCain has presented himself “variously a fighter, a conciliator, an experienced leader and a shake-‘em-up rebel.” His campaign staff argues that all of these various elements comprise McCain and that it gives the campaign greater flexibility and better positioning to win over voters.

Great businesses – and great political candidates – know what they stand for. They define their distinctive Point of View and realize that all messages must tie back to this position. This is much harder to do in practice than it is in theory. Frequently, businesses and candidates see something their competitors are doing and think they can do it a little better, so they adopt their own version of that. This poses two problems – you’re reacting rather than leading, and, if you can’t tie this shiny new thing back to your distinctive Point of View, you undermine that Point of View.

As Jack Palance said in the movie City Slickers all those years ago, the secret of life (or business. Or politics) is one thing – you just need to figure it out. So, call it fulfilling your brand promise, or your Big Hairy Audacious Goal, or your Point of View, but more importantly: know that if you stick to it, you can win in the end.

Posted Under: Point of View Marketing
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