Message Pyramid By Achim Bergmann

By at July 26, 2011 | 7:20 pm | Print

Message Pyramid  By Achim Bergmann

Since Gerald Ford’s 1976 loss, Republican strategists have been teaching their young that it is critical to define the terms of battle in order to win.  By starting their sequence of message development with constructing a theme, a concept that will define the entire election, not just their campaign, they attempt to determine the playing field as one favorable to their message.  Think about it as having home court advantage in the NBA playoffs.  Republicans aim to have voters make decisions based on a political environment they choose – their home court.  Their campaign message fits the environment and is communicated to voters hungry for such a message.   If Republicans are successful in defining the theme of the election, their chances of winning increase dramatically.  In the NBA playoffs, the home team wins nearly 75% of the time.

Democrats have too often fallen into the trap of trying to develop a winning campaign message within an existing political environment.  Issues are poll-tested, candidate strengths and weaknesses are evaluated, and a message is crafted that gives the Democratic candidate the advantage in the poll.  But no matter how effective a message tests in a poll, if the game is being played on the Republicans’ court it is harder to break through and grab the voter’s attention.  Democrats have been effective at nationally defining the playing field on a few occasions over the past thirty years (1996 in particular, and 1992 and 2006 with some serious help from faltering Republicans) but we must teach our young as the Republicans do.  Fight for home court advantage.

The theme defines the electoral environment. The message defines the candidate within the electoral environment.

Furthermore, several candidates I have worked with have talked about particular issues they want to run on.  Specific issues rarely define large elections and should define campaigns equally as rarely.  Issues are the foundation, the building blocks for a message.  They are not THE message.

Hard core partisans are hard core partisans because of the issues.  Persuadable and independent voters tend to make decisions about candidates based on more abstract qualities than their positions on specific issues.  Do they like you?  Do they believe you more than your opponent?  Will you work hard?  Do you represent their values?  Will you do what you say you will do?  Will you be open-minded and not a rigid partisan?  The examples could go on for pages but the point is that issues are important but you must personally connect with voters and separate yourself from your opponent on a more abstract level.

To illustrate this philosophy, I constructed a campaign development tool I call the Message Pyramid.  This is an expansion upon the Tully Message Box, credited to Paul Tully, the brilliant Democratic strategist who passed away in 1992 (some Republicans apparently name it after someone else).  It is a pyramid for three reasons: 1) concepts go from more specific (entrenched political environment factors and issue positions) to more abstract, narrowing to the theme at the apex; 2) the Tully Message Box sits in the center of the pyramid; and 3) illustrative concepts like the food pyramid and John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success were memorable to me as a child.  To see John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, click www.coachwooden.com/pyramidpdf.pdf. He is a genius and I am proud to have attended his camps, despite my being a diehard USC Trojan.

 Achim Bergmann is Vice President and Campaign Services Director for the Baughman Company, a national direct mail firm that elects Democrats to office.  Achim has managed more than $100 million in campaigns and programs from city council to President, of the United States including the $20 million direct mail program for Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000. Achim has served as a key strategist for the DNC, DGA and under Rahm Emanuel at the DCCC, helping engineer a historic 30-seat gain for Democrats in Congress.

The Baughman Company   122 C Street NW, Suite 240    Washington, DC 20001   202-266-0470    www.baughmancompany.com abergmann@baughmancompany.com

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