Standing by the Shrimp

I came to Capitol Hill as a staff member at a time of plenty. Honoraria – payments for speeches to trade associations at $2,000 per, free tickets to games and events, and shrimp. Lots of shrimp. Not in Forrest Gump variety, but in Brobdingnagian quantity.

I never filled my pockets with them as interns sometimes did, but I did stand by the shrimp, munching and weaving a circle around the mound.

I thought about this describing a large organization grown lazy and disconnected from its mission, giving competitors inroads to its clients and tying its staff up with internal navel-gazing and accountability for increasing layers of trivia. Continue reading

Good Campaigns Have Always Told Their Own Stories

(In the off-season year of 1995, the editor of Campaigns & Elections Magazine asked me to write a brief story about the use of press releases by campaigns. Both as a media consultant and earlier as a congressional staffer, I had used my experience as a reporter to guide clients and organizations into helping themselves by helping reporters and editors do their jobs and sometimes doing the job for them. It wasn’t a new tactic: providing free branded materials to newspapers was common from recipes to right-wing advocacy. It wasn’t brand journalism, it was pure selling; an unabashed effort by organizations on either side of The Wall to have their needs met without openly compromising their roles. In bold below is one of the ways the arrangement worked in the business of campaigns.)

Most reporters say the value of a press release has gone up in recent times thanks to the advent of newsroom recycling. But your release can get to the box marked “in” before it goes to the one marked “bin” if it shows that you know your message and your media.

Trashing an ambitious politician is a cherished rite in the news business and showering reporters with too much paper is a surefire way to be called before the bar and grill after hours.One of the most satisfying columns I ever read was a piece about our opponent’s releases being used as scratch paper by the columnist’s toddler. A lot of the complaining may be due to the curly nature of fax paper, but in an age when satellite coverage and online services reach further and further down the journalistic food chain, the press release can seem less relevant all the time.

But like it or not, reporters and the people who assign them rely on releases and quickly grade campaigns by the quality of the information the campaign puts out.

Good reporters will never follow your roadmap all the way, but establish your credibility early and the press will work with you, not around you, up to the end. To keep your campaign’s releases in play, make them essential to the story you want to see. Start by making sure the press people are an essential part of the campaign team, with access to the candidate and the other senior staffers at all times and knowledge of the polling, paid media and mail strategies. Continue reading

For GOP and Latinos; arithmetic, white men and ripped furniture

An AP story today on Fox News Latino is headlined Out of Reach for Romney Today, Minorities a Key to the GOP Future. The lede is blunt: “ The Republican party cannot expect to win future presidential elections by simply counting on non-Hispanic white voters. That’s the message from worried Republicans urging the party to deal with the dilemma head on.”

And the future looks bleak: “To understand the GOP quandary, consider the possibility of Texas and Florida — nearly a quarter of all Electoral College votes between them — becoming reliably Democratic.”

The article cites worries voiced recently, most prominently South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s sardonic observation that his party isn’t “generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term” to offset its’ bleak prospects as judged by the last go-round: nine of 10 John McCain voters were white, compared to six of 10 Obama voters.

Republicans and some Hispanics say economic opportunity, free enterprise, etc. will lure Latino voters back, but immigration isn’t far from any diagnosis of the problem. Mindful of the harsh immigration policy and rhetorical gauntlet Romney joined during the GOP primary (remember “self deportation”?), Sen. Marco Rubio tells AP. “Immigration may not be the No. 1 issue in the Hispanic community, but it is a gateway issue. The way you talk about it matters.”

Maybe messaging can help, but some would argue that no Republican would emerge from a primary with anything less than Tea Party certification on “border security.” The GOP brand on the subject has given Democrats a virtual pass on discussing, much less describing, real immigration reform.

For Republicans, it’s a slow-motion car wreck. Today’s AP story mentioned Graham, but it reminded me of what my favorite GOP consultant/commentator Mike Murphy said on Meet the Press barely a month after President Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

Said Murphy, “At the end of the day here’s the one statistic we all got to remember:  the country’s changing.  Ronald Reagan won in 1980 with 51 percent of the vote.  We all worship Ronald Reagan.  But if that election had been held with the current demographics of America today, Ronald Reagan would’ve gotten 47 percent of the vote.

“The math is changing.  Anglo vote’s 74 percent now, not 89.  And if we don’t modernize conservatism, we’re going to have a party of 25 percent of the vote going to Limbaugh rallies, enjoying every, every applause line, ripping the furniture up.  We’re going to be in permanent minority status.”

With Earned Media Changes, Brand Journalism is Critical

I spent six years as a daily newspaper reporter covering cops and courts, city councils, legislatures in three states, Congress the White House and various crooks and scoundrels on the investigative beat. My parents met in a newsroom where, it was said, journalism was known as “the last refuge of the vaguely talented.”

I mourn the decline of newspapers, but I’m not bitter. As time passes, I’m less inclined to view reporting as some sort of calling and more as a skill with many applications, and one that is critical to organizations in the form of  brand journalism.

Political Scientist Daniel Hallin in his book The Uncensored War defined three “spheres” of journalism. The first is the Sphere of Consensus, where the topics include issues like genocide, slavery, and childhood obesity. In this sphere of topics, journalists are under no compunction to present differing points of view. They can take a side confident that their objectivity is intact.

The second sphere – that of “Legitimate Controversy,” is the journalists’ wheelhouse, where objectivity is the definition of the profession and those who want the title devote significant effort to balance. The third is called the Sphere of Deviance, where aliens, talking dogs and legitimate rape reside – the ridiculous and irrelevant, considered unworthy of legitimate attention.

Dallin’s key point is that the explosion of new media has not only fractured traditional coverage of events, it has changed the definition by certain journalists and audiences of all the spheres and greatly expanded that second sphere. What is “Legitimate Controversy” is in dispute. Continue reading

Peaceful Transitions in Glen Canyon

(A travel story, now 25 years old. I’m inspired to post it here after a trip to visit my grown son in New Mexico reminded me how much I miss the West.)

The scenery off the bow of our 50-foot houseboat shifted slowly northward as our captain found her “attention arrested by some new wonder.” She indulged her urge to explore and “we found ourselves in a vast chamber carved out of rock.” Slowed to an idle, our boats’ wake lapped back to us from the canyon walls.

The view is of the bowl of stone and natural wonders that hold the waters of Lake Powell. The quotes are by John Wesley Powell, the Civil War veteran  and explorer who wrote more than 110 years ago about the land some 400 feet beneath the surface of the lake in southeastern Utah that bears his name. In Powell’s time, Back then, the only water here was a placid stretch of the Colorado River on its way to the Grand Canyon 75 miles south and then to the Gulf of Mexico.

Powell named the Glen Canyon after the verdant ribbons of vegetation that lined the river and poured over from the ledges and dooryards of ancient aboriginal homes. These cave dwellings of the Anasazi farmers were chiseled from cliffs vaulting hundreds of feet off the canyon floor.

With a gentle shove from the two 75-horsepower outboards, we moored on a sandy beach at the foot of a semicircle of cliffs that rose from the canyon pool about half the height Powell had seen. After lunch and a midday swim in the shadows of the August sun, the grotto narrowed to a crevice in the rock. We gathered in the wheelroom of our pontooned home to plan our voyage. In our first of seven days on the lake, we found ourselves wandering, lured by silent finger canyons off the main lake and ignoring the itinerary we had set at poolside in Page, Ariz. the day before our trip began. After the huddle, except for a consensus about visiting Rainbow Bridge, the largest natural arch in the world, we firmly decided not to decide. Continue reading

Digital Divide & Conquer

In August, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reported on the presidential campaigns’ use of digital to bypass traditional earned media. The broadest conclusion was that the president’s campaign posted almost four times the content as his challenger and was active on nearly twice the number of platforms.

The Pew study also revealed that the dominant national message of the campaigns dealing with jobs and the economy was not the dominant interest of voters on the digital hook. For both campaigns, issues like immigration, health and veterans generated two to four times the reaction.

The digital divergence didn’t matter to the campaigns. As Pew said, “neither candidate engages in much dialogue with voters,” referring to citizen content on the digital channels of the campaign. Continue reading

Enough ‘Emotional Terrorism’

National Journal Online

By Steve Snider
October 6, 2010

In the late 1990s, Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church posted a news release to its site announcing plans to picket the funeral of my father, Dick Snider. My Dad was a Topeka newspaper columnist for many years, writing 750-word takes three days a week on politics and local characters past and present, taking not a few pokes at the pompous and self-dealing. Phelps and his picketers were a Topeka staple for years before going national to spread their targets of hate and ending up as plaintiffs in Snyder v. Phelps. The Supreme Court will hear an appeal today from the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder to reinstate a $5 million judgment won against the Phelps group after they picketed Matthew’s funeral. Snyder was killed in Iraq.

My father said Phelps started targeting him for columns that chided Topeka authorities for allowing the picketers to roam the city in placard-waving packs to harass “accused” homosexuals. A newspaper profile of Dick Snider when he turned 80 put it this way: “As a youngster in Oakwood, Okla., the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross at the Snider family home, forcing one of the few Roman Catholic families in the small town to move elsewhere. Little wonder why Snider maintains little tolerance for fools and bigots.”

In that same profile, I was quoted in the family manner, welcoming the Phelps picket to my Dad’s eventual funeral, saying that at least there would be a crowd at Mass. And there was. As we drove down Southwest Jackson in the funeral limousine in November 2004, there, on the grounds of the state capitol across from the church where my parents were married and my father would be eulogized by my son, stood a couple dozen people — most with my Dad’s photo stapled on fence posts and thrust into the air along with signs like “Fag Media Will Burn” and “Dick Snider Has Gone to Hell.”

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Candidates are much like actual human beings

Campaign Message Manual

(In 1995, the Democratic National Committee asked my political and media consulting firm MacWilliams Cosgrove Snider Smith Robinson to write a series of training manuals for campaign leaders and staff. Between us, we authored and edited a half-dozen manuals on subjects from Field and Fundraising to Message and Media. Below is an excerpt from one I wrote on the subject of Messaging with a link to the full manual above in blue.)

“Despite the criticism you hear of modern elections, they are very much a matter of substance. They are won by campaigns that accomplish the fundamental and very difficult task of persuasion; convincing voters that their candidate is better than the opponent.

“Winning campaigns develop and deliver a message that communicates to voters the sense that the candidate shares their values. As the late Paul Tully, former political director of the DNC, wrote; “…a message is a limited body of truthful information which is consistently conveyed by a candidate and an organization in order to provide the persuasive reasons for an audience to choose, and act on behalf of their choice of, our candidate.”

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The Farmer and the Cowman Should be Friends

(In 2008 when I ran the National Education Association’s media production and advertising shop, I was asked by the IT director to talk about – and help shore up – the bridge between technology and creative operations, to give them a brief look into our evolving world, growing more in sync with theirs every year. The audience was 40-50 IT folk at their national conference. It wasn’t a lion’s den, not even a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical feud: I had worked with several of them and attended their gatherings to learn as we built NEA’s first online video channels and web advertising. But in a meeting primarily about technology and assorted products and challenges, let’s just say my assigned topic was fresh.)

Farmer-Cowman hoedown from “Oklahoma”

“I’ve been coming to the IT conference for several years now and I have always come to listen. This time, they asked me to describe our work in more detail, to share some of what I’ve been hearing from colleagues involved in multimedia and basically to make a pitch for wider collaboration. This is different than cooperation and support; we get that in spades from our IT colleagues.

First, a quick look at Advertising & Broadcast Services. We are a unit inside NEA Public Relations with six media professionals. We shoot in Betacam and mini-dv format; edit in both Avid and Final Cut. We have a small studio for multicamera live-to-tape, switched productions and a sound studio with Pro Tools. We can compress media to multiple formats. I have a lot more detail on any of this and invite you to talk to me today or anytime. Our charge is basically to say Yes to any request for this work from the states and then to figure out how to make it work. This is sometimes a budgetary issue, but mostly a matter of scheduling. We typically work in some fashion with 15-20 state affiliates a year.

Only a handful of people in NEA and affiliates are full time multimedia production; video, audio web and integrated. More and more every day, this work is web-based. And I can tell you that many of them have hit the wall or are about to in terms of their individual knowledge and their capacities. In our own case, there is one person in all of NEA that understands multimedia compression well enough to post video to our website and our internet channels. At the same time, multimedia is rapidly becoming democratized and personalized. We’ve all heard the basics – YouTube, blogs, podcasts, search engine marketing, social networking, consumer generated media, sms, mms, virtual reality. There is a clamor out there for us to understand these and other tools and put them to work in order to reach our audiences. Let’s take a quick look.

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