Changing Thoughts

by Paul Novak / ( Guest Editorial)

Occasionally a young professional in the business will approach me and ask, “After 25+ years in the business of political communications, what are the hard truths you've learned just by virtue of real-world experience?”

In fact, I'm delighted at the question. There’s a certain discomfort that comes with the onset of AARP eligibility, but also a calm confidence derived from knowing what you know, not from book learning, but experientially.

So here’s my list of “lessons learned” wandering down the path of umpteen political campaigns. Having spent a considerable amount of time in the corporate advertising world, I am amazed at how similar the rules are across client categories.

15 Real World Tips on Political Communications

  • Every campaign needs a rationale.
  • Most campaigns overstate their case. Keep it simple.
  • Pay attention to production values and creative concepts. Tactics matter.
  • Your job is to figure out what you want to say. Our job is to figure out how to say it.
  • Media weight matters. If money is the mother’s milk, critical mass is the nutritional value.
  • When it comes to electronic media, a small group of key decision makers is more effective than a large, “democratic” process.
  • Figure out who's with you, and who's against you. Voters not in either group are your primary target audience.
  • Good campaign verbs: listen, compromise, respect, differentiate.
  • Cost-efficiency drives the choice of media.
  • Great Campaign Plans grow out of the question, “What does it take to win?”
  • The 200 people you know are a terrible focus group.
  • Never let your media consultant mystify with jargon. Ask questions.
  • Polling sometimes obscures as many truths as it illuminates.
  • Table-pounders aren’t necessarily smarter operatives.
  • There’s a time and place for every other medium, but nothing works quite like television.

Paul Novak is a Democratic media consultant in Upstate New York.