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Old School Speech Lessons for the Modern World — Kissinger’s Eulogy to Sen. John McCain

29 Sep

    As time has passed since the passing of the late Sen. John McCain, this is a good time not to pass over one of the better eulogies in his memory and the lessons it offers to communicators. 

    At McCain’s own request, President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama led the eulogies and stole the headlines.  McCain wanted it that way.  He wanted the world to see that in America we settle political scores at the ballot box and thereafter break bread at the table of ideals.  But buried among the communion crumbs was a speech that students of political and social rhetoric should take note.  It came from none other than Henry Kissinger.   

    In many respects, these two men share nothing in common, and yet everything in common.  Separated by a generation, they represent different chapters in American history. Kissinger’s coming of age came during a time when American power was ascending, McCain’s came when American power was fracturing.  But Kissinger’s flight from Nazi tyranny formed his views on the ideals and values of America every bit much as communist captivity formed McCain’s. 

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Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Senator Joe Lieberman, and Meghan McCain were among the speakers eulogizing the late Senator John McCain at his September 1st funeral.

    The former Secretary of State under President Nixon, and co-recipient of the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a ceasefire in the Vietnam War is not especially noted for his oratory.  The plodding, bookish, and deliberative elder statesman speaks with a heavy German-accented monotone that is the antithesis 21stcentury talking heads. But his eulogy of Sen. McCain was a speech writing lesson in structure, substance and delivery. 

    By contemporary standards his eulogy was short, just 738 words.   But it carried exponentially more power, focus and ultimately a more forceful persuasion of McCain’s legacy than did a wandering speech by Sen. Joseph Lieberman who rambled for more than 20 minutes, often times talking more about himself.  Kissinger’s eulogy had a clear beginning, middle, and end.  In the first two sentences, he tells the audience what the speech is all about—one of history’s great personalities that remind us of unity and sustaining values.  “John McCain was one of those gifts of destiny,” said Kissinger.  Every word that followed supported and transcended this notion.

    Kissinger powerfully attempted to prove that gift of destiny with an admission of his own guilt.  Guilt about what he too didn’t do in life and what he couldn’t do.  The former diplomat acknowledged that he had the chance to free McCain during his negotiations with Hanoi to end the Vietnam War.  McCain thanked his captors for the offer, but refused. Kissinger had to wait until 1973 to finally meet McCain at a White House reception for several prisoners who were finally freed.  Kissinger remembered, “When we finally met, his greeting was both self effacing and moving. ‘Thank you for saving my honor.’”  It was all because as Kissinger noted, that in the McCain family national service was its own reward that did allow for special treatment.

    Kissinger noted that McCain, too, returned to an America divided over its presidency and the direction of the country. Perhaps in an affront to the current administration, Kissinger skillfully challenged the notion that America cannot retreat from the world stage.   McCain, he said, would never allow for it.  “In this manner John McCain’s name became synonymous with an America that reached out to the powerful to be loyal and reach out to the oppressed,” said Kissinger.

    Perhaps most powerfully, Kissinger reflected upon his own failings as a world leader to instill hope and set for a call for action.  “Like most people my age, I feel a longing for what is lost and cannot be restored,” reflected Kissinger.  He then hypothesized that if beauty and youth are fleeting and short lived, then sacrifice for the greater good is ultimately what endures—qualities McCain proved.

    His conclusion was as short and strong as his “gift of destiny” beginning.   As if to put an exclamation point on his opening sentence, Kissinger declared, “The world will be lonelier without John McCain.” But in perhaps a tribute to the late Senator he challenged all Americans to fill the void.  Kissinger concluded, “Henceforth, the country’s honor is ours to sustain.”

     But it was more than Kissinger’s words.  Students of speech and communicators who want to better connect with their audiences should also pay close attention to Kissinger’s delivery. He spoke in short, declarative sentences.  Each one commanded its own power.  They willed the listener to pay attention.  In a teleprompter world, Kissinger goes back to an era where oratory was delivered from paper and memory, not from glass.  For reference, go back and watch every JFK speech, especially his “We choose the moon” address.  It’s a skillset where the speaker delivers no more words than the simple sentences and thoughts in front of him.  With this style, Kissinger created a cadence and rhythm that drew in the listener.

      It was certainly not the most talked about eulogy of John McCain.  McCain’s daughter, Meghan delivered her own powerfully emotional and political charged memorial to her father.  In a headline news world, Kissinger didn’t make the cut.  But for communicators his words deserve serious study because they offer a highly focused rhetorical map in a Google Maps world.

Here is the text of Henry Kissinger’s eulogy on Sen. McCain:

   Our country has had the good fortune that at times of national trial a few great personalities have emerged to remind us of our essential unity and inspire us our sustaining values. John McCain was one of those gifts of destiny. 

   I met john for the first time in April, 1973 at a White House reception for prisoners returned from captivity in Vietnam. He had been much on my mind during the negotiation to end the Vietnam War, oddly also because his father, then commander in chief of the Pacific command, when briefing the president answered references to his son by saying only “I pray for him.” 

   In the McCain family national service was its own reward that did not allow for special treatment. I thought of that when his Vietnamese captors during the final phase of negotiations offered to release John so that he could return with me on the official plane that had brought me to Hanoi. Against all odds, he thanked them for the offer but refused it. When we finally met, his greeting was both self effacing and moving. “Thank you for saving my honor.” He did not tell me then or ever that he had had an opportunity to be freed years earlier but had refused, a decision for which he had to endure additional periods of isolation and hardship. Nor did he ever speak of his captivity again during the near half century of close friendship. 

   John’s focus was on creating a better future. As a senator, he supported the restoration of relations with Vietnam, helped bring it about on a bipartisan basis in the Clinton administration and became one of the advocates of reconciliation with his enemy. Honor, it is an intangible quality, not obligatory. It has no code. It reflects an inward compulsion, free of self interest. It fulfills a cause, not a personal ambition.  It represents what a society lives for beyond the necessities of the moment. Love makes life possible; honor and nobility. For john it was a way of life. 

   John returned to America divided over its presidency, divided over the war. Amidst all of the turmoil and civic unrest, divided over the best way to protect our country and over whether it should be respected for its power or its ideals. John came back from the war and declared this is a false choice. America owed it to itself to embrace both strengths and ideals in decades of congressional service, ultimately as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John was an exponent of an America strong enough to its purpose. 

   But John believed also in a compassionate America, guided by core principles for which American foreign policy must always stand. “With liberty and justice for all” is not an empty sentiment he argued, it is the foundation of our national consciousness. To John, American advantages had universal applicability. I do not believe he said that there’s an errant exception any more than there is a black exception or an Asian or Latin exception. He warned against temptation of withdrawal from the world. In this manner John McCain ‘s name became synonymous with an America that reached out to oblige the powerful to be loyal and give hope to the oppressed.

   John lines of all these battles for decency and freedom. He was an engaged warrior fighting for his causes with a brilliance, with courage, and with humility. John was all about hope. In a commencement speech at Ohio’s Wesleyan University John summed up the essence of his engagement of a lifetime. “No one of us, if they have character, leaves behind a wasted life.” Like most people of my age I feel a longing for what is lost and cannot be restored. If the happy and casual beauty of youth prove ephemeral, something better can endure and endure until our last moment on Earth and that is the moment in our lives when we sacrifice for something greater than ourselves. Heroes inspire us by the matter of factness of their sacrifice and the elevation of the root vision. 

   The world will be lonelier without John McCain, his faith in America and his instinctive sense of moral duty. None of us will ever forget how even in his parting John has bestowed on us a much needed moment of unity and renewed faith in the possibilities of America. Henceforth, the country’s honor is ours to sustain.

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How 3M’s Inge Thulin Fought The Charlottesville Crisis with Code

14 Sep

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       3M’s CEO Inge Thulin recently found himself caught between a meme and a movement.  The violence in Charlottesville, Virginia during a neo-Nazi rally and President Trump’s half-hearted condemnation of white supremacists put Thulin and other business leaders in an uncomfortable spotlight with the president generating the wattage.   How to respond to an emerging public relations threat is not just a business decision, it’s also a strategic communication decision.

        Thulin along with 26 CEOs joined Trump’s Manufacturing Council at the beginning of his administration.  For these business leaders, joining the commission not only gave them an important seat at the table in forming government policy that could benefit their core businesses, but it also could provide valuable insights into economic trends and how to strategically position their companies.  There was little to lose.

       Then came Charlottesville.

       The images that spread at the speed of ones and zeros also captured a fractured nation at the speed of smartphones and social media.  President Trump’s ultimate failure to condemn the white supremacists simply fed the outrage.  The business leaders on the president’s manufacturing commission quickly found themselves caught in the contagion.    

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Figure 1

       Knowing how such a contagion starts and evolves is also helpful in navigating a response that protects and elevates a brand.   Social psychologist Jaap Van Ginneken holds that such a coalescence of public opinion forms when diffuse ideas congregate around an idea or strong replicator.  It’s a process he calls entrainment.  In Charlottesville, one of the replicators was the image and video of the car that killed a woman as it was driving through the crowd of those rallying against the white nationalists.   The image forces the viewer to associate the experience with their own closely held beliefs.  The stronger the beliefs, the more likely it will affect their attitude toward action to align themselves with those who share their beliefs, and just and important, align themselves against those who do not. (Figure 1).  It’s classic balance theory.   In this case of entrainment, the image turned viral, a contagion was born, and it coalesced around pop-up movements, vigils, and rallies across the country to denounce the violence in Charlottesville. 

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       For the CEO’s on the president’s commission, the contagion prompted viral petitions for members of the Manufacturing Commission to stand up to President Trump and resign.   3M’s Inge Thulin was among those in the cross hairs.   For most multi-billion dollar corporations, responding to such a crisis typically involves a team of attorneys, advisors and corporate communicators who look at everything from the effect on stock price, supply chain, and potential investor lawsuits.  To complicate matters, Charlottesville happened as 3M shares were already falling on Wall Street.   One question 3M certainly asked itself was whether to associate the fortunes of the company to a president experiencing dismal approval ratings. (Figure 2) 

      It’s complicated.  Thulin made it simple.   He resigned from the commission and announced why on social media.

 

            In making its decision, Thulin and 3M looked no further than their own corporate soul–their code of conduct.  The 3M code spells out in detail the values and expectations of not only its business practices, but how employees are to treat each other.  Among its core principals: be good, be honest, be respectful.  

            Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky made a similar decision.  Gorsky too, leaned on his company’s own credo.  Over the years the J&J credo has famously guided the company in responding to the Tylenol tampering crisis in the 1980’s and other product recalls in 2009 and 20010.  To this day, the J&J credo is considered the gold standard of corporate ethics.  After Gorsky, Thulin and several other CEO’s decided to leave the president’s council, the remaining members dissolved it.

            During a time when a polarized public and consumer attitudes shift like the fog in a crooked canyon, brands and their communicators need a guiding light.  3M had one, and Charlottesville helped its CEO focus the beam.

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United Airlines & Sean Spicer — Two Case Studies in Crisis Communications

28 Apr

 Crisis Comm Title Grapihcs.002    United Airlines and the White House are among the world’s most powerful brands and both recently gave divergent examples in managing crisis communication.  Within a 24-hour span, one had to foam the runaway for a public relations crash landing, while the other managed to grab the stick in a mid-air tailspin and get back on course.  Together, both United Airlines and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer offer unique case studies on how to manage and not manage a crisis.

    By its very definition, a crisis can happen at any moment.  And how organizations immediately respond and manage the messaging can make all the difference in either containing potential damage, or creating a contagion that spins out of control and causes severe damage to the brand and the business.  That’s exactly what happened on April 10th.

    When United flight attendants forcibly removed passenger Dr. David Dao from an overbooked flight 3411 in Chicago, it not only caused a scene, it caused severe social turbulence.  With the speed of a smartphone shutter button, the images and videos flew faster than non-stop flight on a clear day.

  As outrage virally spread on social media, United issued a tone deaf response apologizing only for having to “re-accomodate passengers.”  Spokesman Charlie Hobart told the New York Times, “We have a number of customers on board that aircraft, and they want to get to their destination on time and safely, and we want to work to get them there.”

    It took took two full days for United’s CEO Oscar Munoz to issue an outright apology and launch a communications strategy, but by then the damage was already spiraling out of control.  United’s stock price stalled like an airfoil.  Within five days United lost $1.15 billion in market capitalization. (Figure 1) That’s a steep price for forcibly removing passenger who refused to give up his seat for $1000 voucher.

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Figure 1

    Less than 24 hours after United’s crisis, White House spokesman Sean Spicer created his own self-inflicted PR wound.  In trying to frame the seriousness of Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own people, he invoked Adolf Hitler.   At his daily press briefing on live television, Spicer said Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”  Never mind that Hitler’s SS used chemical gases to exterminate Jews in Germany’s concentration camps during WWII.  The reaction was swift, incredulous, and furious.  The difference in Spicer’s crisis is in how me managed it.  Within an hour he not only issued an apology, he was on the air live with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer retracting his remarks and admitting he made a tremendous error in judgement.

     By owning his mistake and taking immediate action to correct the record and apologize, Mr. Spicer managed to deftly keep the story out of the next day’s news cycle.   As I’ve written in this forum before, there are established best practices for crisis communication:

  1. Cease and desist—stop doing what you’re doing.
  2. Apologize to those you’ve wronged—and mean it.
  3. Change your tactics.
  4. Communicate the change to employees and customers.
  5. Establish performance measures for how the change is working.

     Mr. Spicer followed the most important of these mantras in a mater of hours.  United’s Oscar Munoz took a week and a half to form a cohesive and strategic response that was finally posted on Facebook and communicated to its employees and customers.  The response issued a strong apology and pledged to customers to no longer force anyone out of their seats, and to reduce the amount of overbooked flights.  United’s attorneys also settled with Dr. Dao.  But the changes come only after United had already caused significant damage to its brand.

 

     What’s especially troubling for United is this incident completely destroys a unique brand equity that it has spent decades earning with its customers.   For years before its merger with Continental Airlines, United implored air travelers to “fly the friendly skies.”    It wasn’t just a marketing slogan, it was a brand promise.   When passengers flew with United, they expected something special–it was part of United’s ethos.  Many successful brands such as Johnson & Johnson have famously made their own brand promises part of their corporate culture.   Johnson & Johnson has a credo that dictates its core values in guiding everything from product development to employee relations and customer service.   In responding to the passenger incident, United’s customer service and communications team lost site of its historic brand promise to use as a guidepost.

    United may now be in the process of charting a customer service flight plan, but it took a disastrous grounding to make it happen.

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How Strategic Communication Positioning Won for Donald Trump

13 Nov

trump-positioned-to-win-002     Donald Trump didn’t just win the war for the Electoral College, he won the messaging war for an important segment of disaffected Americans.  He did it by strategically positioning his brand, his message, and perhaps by complete accident, his marketing drivers.

     Trump paid attention to the one data set we now know mattered most—dissatisfaction with the direction of the country.  The Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ Dr. Larry Jacobs told a group of journalists and producers during the political conventions (myself included) that this was a political insight that couldn’t be ignored.  Jacobs warned that it would be extremely difficult for an incumbent or someone closely tied to an incumbent or the perceived establishment to win. 

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Figure 1

      In this respect, the polling was convincing.  In the aggregate tracking compiled by Real Clear Politics, the margins couldn’t be more stark. (Figure 1)  For nearly all of 2016 Americans believed with a nearly two to one margin that the country was heading in the wrong direction.  Donald Trump focused like a laser beam on that insight and the people behind it. 

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Figure 2

     In speaking to those voters, he positioned himself in their minds as the candidate who represented change.  Quite frankly, he stole a page from the strategic marketing playbooks of major brands and products in carving out a point of differentiation.   Consumers tend to build perceptual maps in their minds about how products compare to each other when they make a purchasing decision.  I would argue they make the same set of comparisons between political candidates.  In the case of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton the dominant perceptual map came down to a choice of who represented true change and who would be better for the economy. (Figure 2)  As a brand, you want to occupy the upper right region of the axis points on the perceptual map.  Trump didn’t just occupy this position, he owned it with the majority of voters in the critical swing states who tipped the Electoral College. 

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Figure 3

     In many respects he did it through branding and messaging.  In a previous post, I established how Trump personified the Rebel archetype. (Figure 3) His break-all-the-rules brand spoke directly to disaffected voters who felt that the country wasn’t just heading in the wrong direction, but that no one was listening to them.  Clinton’s Ruler archetype was too closely aligned with the establishment that Trump’s voters felt alienated from.  To be sure, Trump also successfully deployed the fear factor.  By exploiting voter anxiety on crime, immigration, jobs, and health care insurance he banked on well-established economic theory that people are more motivated by loss than they are by gain.

     But Trump also helped his candidacy by how he marketed himself.  Former Campbell Mithun advertising agency CEO and University of Minnesota Strategic Communication Program Director Steve Wehrenberg argues that there are seven irrefutable marketing drivers.   Whether by pure luck or shrewd planning, Trump succeeded at nearly every one of these drivers.

Brand Awareness.   Real estate, hotels and casinos made Donald Trump a business brand and best selling author, but the NBC television show “The Apprentice” made him a star. By the time Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president in 2015, he was already a household name having built his brand as a savvy business expert and larger-that-life personality.  Trump was able to leverage his brand awareness to get free airplay on cable news channels and largely bypass expensive television advertising.

Emotional Bond.  Trump’s brash personality and shoot-from-the-hip style caused people to love him or hate him.  But those who loved Donald Trump, really loved him. Trump famously said during the campaign “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”  Even when the video emerged of Trump making lewd remarks about women on the “Access Hollywood” bus, it only had a temporary effect on his polling numbers.  We now know that the emotional bond to Trump’s economic message simply swamped whatever misgivings his voters had about the messenger.

Product News.   Trump’s pension for outrageousness and unpredictability made both his supporters and enemies follow his every move and statement during the campaign.  Quite simply, he was a Los Angeles car chase no one could stop watching.  His use of Twitter as a means to directly communicate with his followers kept them constantly informed of his every thought and move.

Activation.  In the marketing and advertising world, activation is getting the customer to make the immediate decision to buy your product through a sale, coupon, or incentive.  In politics, activation is about getting people to vote for you on Election Day. For all of her superior organization, fund raising, and GOTV, Hillary Clinton lost the activation battle in several critical battleground states.  Trump won it in part by his message and his personal social media appeals on November 8th.

Loyalty.   This is all about providing exclusive offerings to loyal followers.  The Best Buy’s and Amazon’s of the world build loyalty by offering discounts and free shipping if you join their rewards program.  Similarly, politicians reward loyalty by providing exclusive access and one-on-one pictures for followers at donor events.  Donald Trump attempted to build loyalty in reverse by making disaffected workers believe that he was the only candidate who believed in them. 

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Picture 1 – Donald Trump at Minneapolis-St. Pau Intl. Airport on November 6, 2016

Product Experience.  Here too, Trump created the illusion that getting the chance to see him and hear him at a rally was a not-to-miss experience.  To be sure, every candidate does this.  But Trump’s rallies became a calling.  At the Minnesota rally hastily arranged within 24 hours at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the Republican Party of Minnesota reported 17,000 people RSVP’d online.   Trump’s followers illegally parked on Hwy 77 and scaled chain link fences to race to the hangar to get inside for the rally.  Even then, more of his followers were left stranded outside of the hangar than the thousands who got inside to hear him speak. (Picture 1)

Buzz.   For better or worse, Trump dominated Internet search and chatter.  The final Google Trends metrics show how Trump (seen in red) commanded a large share of search queries all throughout the campaign. (Figure 4) 

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Figure 4

    Political scientists, strategists, and journalists alike will analyze the Trump electoral phenomena for months to come.  Many will focus on the flaws of Clinton herself, her State Department emails, and her abrasive personality.  Others will focus on her campaign’s failure to activate Obama Democrats.  The Washington Post has already examined misplaced ad buys in the final weekend that could have contributed to Clinton’s final downfall at the polls.  But perhaps none of that could overcome the headwinds of an electorate who believed in their core the country was heading in the wrong direction. Trump positioned himself to be the messenger change.  They may not have liked the messenger himself, but enough of them perceived his message was the only one they could identify with.

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New State Fair Food Facts List For Diabetics

2 Sep

     As a father of two daughters with Type 1 diabetes I know first hand the minefield that fairs and festivals are for eating and bolusing for insulin coverage.  

     Get it right, and it’s a wonderfully enjoyable day.  Get it wrong, and the entire family pays a price. But at best, getting it right is a guessing game.  Those nutritional food apps we carry on our smart phones cover commercially made food products, but not always the treats from the mini-donut stand at your state fair.

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Health Partners dietitian Susan Marschke talking about the Cajun peel and eat shrimp as a zero-carb healthy food option at the Minnesota State Fair.

     Several years ago the dietitians at the International Diabetes Center in Minnesota published a Fair Food Facts list of all of the popular items at our Great Minnesota Get Together.  I produced a television story and a corresponding blog article about the list and to this day it is one of the most popular stories I’ve done.  But with constantly changing food items, the IDC team of dietitians decided to revisit and update their list.

   You’ll find the downloadable version at the top of this post.  

     “You look everywhere at the Fair and there’s somebody walking and eating food,” said Susan Marschke, a Registered Dietitian with Health Partners.

     “The one that surprises me is just anything that’s breaded and fried, like those fired Oreos or Twinkies, it’s already something that’s already really rich,” said Marschke.  

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Figure 1

     Perhaps not all too surprising is those deep fried Oreo cookies are among the most popular novelty food items at the Minnesota State Fair.  The dietitians discovered they are also among the worst items on their new list. (Figure 1)   A serving of five cookies (because no one can eat just one) comes in at 108 carb and 891 calories. That’s a nutritional disaster for anyone watching carb intake, not to mention their calories. 

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Figure 2

     Equally as disastrous are the Sweet Martha’s chocolate chip cookies.  Yes, they’re the most delicious food item at the State Fair, and it doesn’t help that one can buy them in an overflowing pail.  But just three of these small treats are 42 carb and 270 calories. (Figure 2)  By the time you add that to other snacks at the fair, that’s a lot of extra insulin to cover the carbs, and if you misjudge the dosage or bolus, that person is going to feel pretty sick in no time.  

     “So I think one of the first things to think about when you plan a trip to Fair for anyone is really, is to pick and choose the things you really like and are really special and eat a little bit of that and share some of it,” said Marschke.

     It’s pretty sound advice.

     No one, especially parents, are trying to take the fun out of going to the fair.  But finding the right foods and the right insulin coverage can make all the difference in having a great day, or a miserable day.

     Hopefully this new Fair Foods Facts guide can help.  Have fun!

GOP Presidential Buzz — Who’s Got it, Who Doesn’t

10 Aug

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      It was reality TV at its best.  There was shouting, insults, bombastic rhetoric, and… Rosie O’Donnell.   Welcome to the first 2016 GOP presidential debates.  As one political scientist noted, it was Jerry Springer without Jerry.  No, this is not your father’s Republican Party anymore.  But television viewers ate it up.   They didn’t just watch, they tweeted, liked, searched, posted, and searched some more.

     This modern day media consumption phenomena creates real-time winners and losers.  Marketers call it “buzz.”  Google calls it “search.”  Whatever you call it, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina owned it during the debates and it will likely deliver a short term boost to their campaigns. 

Figure 1

Figure 1

     The data from Google Trends shows that during the prime time debates, Donald Trump dominated web searches of people looking for more information on him and his presidential campaign. (Figure 1)  It doesn’t hurt that Trump has transformed himself into what political scientist David Schultz would call a politainer.  None of his nine competitors on the stage came close to the internet interaction he drove throughout the evening debates. 

     During the early undercard event called the “happy hour” debates, former Hewlett Packard executive Carly Fiorina also dominated internet buzz. (Figure 2)  Arguably, she commanded the attention in a more credible way.  Fiorina’s presence and responses were articulate, commanding, and authoritative.  She wasn’t just a candidate, she was a one-person c-suite—who just happens to be a woman.  She clearly connected with the audience in ways her early evening cohort did not.   GOP Debates 3  8-15

     What both Trump and Fiorina accomplished is part of the modern day political calculus.  In reality, it’s not much different from consumer product campaigns.  Buzz is one of the seven essential marketing drivers that brands from Proctor & Gamble to Beyonce use to grow their business.  

     Four years ago, I conducted a similar analysis of how buzz predicted the top finishers in the Iowa Caucuses where Rick Santorum won by a handful of votes.  The key is to stay consistent in the messaging and deliver enough strategic product news (campaign stances/messaging) to lead the followers on a journey toward activation—that is, contributing money and voting.   Santorum wasn’t able to sustain that early momentum and later dropped out of the race.  The jury is still out on whether Trump can also sustain the momentum, especially given his public statements about women and his not-so-wise fight with Fox’s Megyn Kelly.

     Social media is also part of the new calculus and contributes significantly to buzz and search.  On Twitter alone, interactions with the GOP debate topped major sporting events.

     It’s also no coincidence that Facebook co-sponsored the GOP debates with Fox News.  Facebook reports that 7.5 million people had more than 20 million interactions on the broadcast—that includes posts, likes and shares.   This is the new modern-day political engagement.   The candidates answered questions from Facebook during the debates through the channel’s own engagement campaign that drew 5 million views and 40,000 responses.   On the day of the event, Trump’s staff used the new “live” on Facebook feature to stream his arrival in Cleveland.   As of this writing it has earned more than two million views and 10,000 shares.

 

     Welcome to the 2016 presidential campaign.  As the first GOP debates showed, it will be a different kind of series of events with online engagement becoming increasing important drivers for securing funds and votes.

The Coat Hanger TV Blooper — The Making of a Viral Video

6 Apr

     It was just a stupid clothes hanger.  That was pulled from a stupid suit.  That became a stupid video.  That has now been viewed more than two million times.      

     Admittedly, in my role as a TV news guy I’ve shared with our viewers dozens if not hundreds of viral videos.   I never expected to be part of one.   

Picture 1 - Fox 9 Meteorologist Steve Frazier's hanger

Picture 1 – Fox 9 Meteorologist Steve Frazier’s hanger

      The on-air mishap of my colleague Steve Frazier pulling a wire hanger out of his suit I can assure you was no stunt.  If Steve was guilty of anything, it was rushing to simply make his camera shot.  But within hours Steve was getting calls from Italy and our assignment desk was fielding inquiries from the UK’s Guardian newspaper.   Then there was NBC’s Today show, Ellen, TIME, The Huffington Post and The Weather Channel.      

     The coat hanger gaffe became such a cultural phenomenon that it even became a question on the NPR news quiz show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.   I happen to know this because I was on vacation and in the audience with my family at the Chase Auditorium in Chicago.   When the question was read to P.J. O’Roarke, my teenage daughters cheered—I just wanted to disappear into the seat.   Then, when I approached scorekeeper Bill Kurtis and host Mike Pesca after the show, Pesca laughed and said, “You work with Steve Frazier!”  (Picture 2) 

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Picture 2 – “Wait, Wait” score keeper Bill Kurtis writing a fan letter to Steve Frazier

      What I now call “hanger gaffe” is not only a statement on 21st century media culture, it’s also a useful case study on what makes videos go viral.   Advertising and consumer behavior researcher John Eighmey offers an outstanding index of factors that affect the propensity to share content.   Videos though, are unique.   With that in mind I’ve constructed my own viral video model that contains five essential factors.  (Figure 1)

Figure 1

Figure 1

      Accessibility:  This is basic and essential.  The video needs to exist on an accessible and sharable channel such as YouTube and increasingly Facebook.      

      Familiarity:  The scenario must be recognizable.   In this case, a television newscast where the audience has already formed its own set of expectations about what happens in a news program.      

      Authenticity:  Is it real, genuine, and not staged?      

      Surprise:  A sudden event or occurrence that deviates from normal expectations.  In this case Steve pulling the hanger from his jacket.      

      Enjoyment:  An emotional response.  Entertainment or outrage.      

     The model essentially needs all of these elements to come together for a video to go viral.   But the model also closely follows the long established Appraisal Theory of consumer behavior. (Figure 2)  In this case the viewer makes a cognitive assessment of video which leads to an emotional response.  The response forms attitudes on actions including whether to “like” the video or share it among friends.  Likewise, the emotional response can also lead to outage depending upon the content of the video—such as a violent police arrest. 

Figure 2

Figure 2

      To be honest there are several contributing factors as to why Steve’s mishap became a temporary world-wide sensation.    Among them is the fact that everyone loves TV news bloopers.  There’s a reason why they’re a staple on late night comedy shows from David Letterman to Jimmy Fallon—viewers love to see presumably credible people make mistakes.   In this case it was a big part of the enjoyment factor.     

      As for the viral video model, Steve’s “hanger gaffe” fits it like a good hanger.   We’ve certainly had our fun.   And now… on with the news.

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