Marketing Lessons from Inside the Beltway

When I was 19, I moved to D.C. and started working in the world of political campaigns and fundraising. I had interned in the city the summer before and basically fell in love with the buzz, the potential, the perceived glamour of the the beltway, and so on. D.C. was sort of like my Justin Bieber, I totally geeked out over all of it!

So I worked out an arrangement with my school to move to D.C., work full time during the day and finish up my college credits at a graduate school in the evenings. I was young, incredibly idealistic and fairly certain that I would roll into town, take the city by storm and the world would be so impressed with me that they would pass a special amendment to allow me to run for President at the age of 27, which of course I would win unanimously.

I’m not exaggerating here.

And so began my political career. In the end, although I didn’t end up being a twenty-something President (an oversight that I think the country is still hurting from), I did learn an awful lot of important lessons during my time wrapped up in the political rat race. These are lessons I have taken with me through out my career as a communications professional and have made me, and most importantly, my clients, all the better for it.

The following are the top three lessons I learned from politicians and their staffers that can help you market, operate, and grow your business:

1) Relationships, relationships, relationships:

Oh, did I mention relationships? When you boil it down politics is all about relationships; nurturing the ones you have, building new ones, highlighting the good ones, downplaying the bad. I am, and always will be a relationship marketer at my core. All my client’s campaigns are built upon a foundation of relationships. That of course, can take a wide variety of shapes and forms, but the one constant is the maintaining and growing the all important ‘people’ connection’.

In politics you see this on multiple levels:

-A candidate must connect with his constituency and convince them that he not only understand their needs, but will also represent and lobby for them on a national or state level. For a successful candidate to gain the trust and support of constituents, he must reach them on their level, and convince them that their lives will be better with him than without him.

-There must be a feeling of partnership. The voters, donors, colleagues, lobbyists must feel that entering into the relationship will result in a net lump gain for their interests.

-There must be genuine, or at the very least, perceived genuine interaction. People want to feel like they matter. End of story. They want to feel like their thoughts, beliefs, opinions, fears, etc. will have an effect on the decisions made.

They must also believe that their participation matters. A good politician empowers people to feel as if they can make a difference if they (donate, vote, raise money, spread the word, etc.) If you can make people feel you truly care, you have tapped into the most powerful weapon for success that has ever existed.

-Give ownership. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that in smart campaigns, the emphasis is never on the word “I,” but on the word “we.”

“This is our country”

“Fighting for our future”

“We must work together to…”

Inclusive language is very important. It gives voters and customers a sense of control and ownership, a feeling that they are part of what you are trying to do and, therefore, their thoughts and insights matter. People are more than willing to support, and (most importantly in this competitive landscape) be loyal to an organization they feel part of. In addition, they will spread your message for you, since they ultimately feel a part of your success

2) Just say NO to YES men!

Yes men might prop up you ego, but they kill your chances at being elected, and likewise, your business. Politicians tend to like to surround themselves with yes men, because many tend to think they are always right and really don’t want anyone disagreeing with them. But show me any political disaster and I’ll show you a situation where there were a lot of yes men and no one brave enough to stop the politician from destroying himself.

It is good to have a team around you that has your same vision and mission. A group of people who have the same belief system and work well together. But a successful business leader knows his strengths and weaknesses and puts people around him to help better facilitate his strengths and protect him (and the organization) from his weaknesses.

3) Have a platform.

Don’t try to be everything to everybody. It won’t work. Not everyone will like you, it just doesn’t happen that way. You might be able to get everyone to feel neutral about you, but what good is that? People don’t care about things that they feel neutral about and in order to be successful you need for them to care.

When business owners tell me their market is “everyone,” I laugh. The hard truth is that unless you are selling either air or water, your market is not everyone. But that’s OK, you don’t want it to be. Do you know why (despite numerous tries) we don’t break out of a party system? Because people like to feel like they are part of an exclusive group. They like to be part of something, a ‘club’ with like-minded people that aren’t like ‘everyone’ else. There is a sense of community and elitism here that every business owner can tap into.

Basically know what you do well, know who appreciates it the most, and focus on doing that for those people.

Then go out, get yourself some bumper stickers and yard signs and shake as many hands and kiss as many babies as you can!