After watching Game Change this past weekend, an old lesson of corporate communications came through in the political decision to choose Sarah Palin as the Vice Presidential nominee to John McCain. The movie, although controversial in its portrayal of Palin, shows a clear effort by the McCain campaign to make a “game change” pick. Senator Obama was building a base through charisma, historical context and social media that McCain could simply not match. Choosing a running mate from the multitude of “thought abouts” would not slow down the “Hope and Change” Express. Enter Governor Palin.
While Palin did indeed shake up the race, she was not a mere outside the box choice – she redefined the entire campaign. On one hand, McCain finally had a dynamic presence that could match the charisma of Obama. On the other hand, in their zeal to match Obama’s personality, McCain removed his differentiating edge – experience.
Earlier in the campaign, McCain had called Obama everything from a community organizer to Paris Hilton, all in an effort to point out Obama’s lack of experience. When a little known governor from Alaska stumbled through some television interviews, the punch behind McCain’s campaign narrative disappeared.
Companies can learn a lot about communications from election strategies and perhaps more from their mistakes. Elections are essentially an accelerated communications effort. In many ways, the mere act of careful observation of a campaign can teach a company what works and what doesn’t in a short period of time. And the best part is – results are clear cut and broadcast on every news network in the country.
The corporate communications lesson from the McCain campaign is clear:
Don’t chase your competition with your message. Compete with your own strengths.
Certainly, there were many other factors that led to Obama’s victory over McCain. Moreover, Palin unquestionably added a positive impact to the McCain campaign that was sorely lacking prior to the Republican Convention. However, as with decisions of a campaign, decisions of a company cannot fight your overall narrative.