Time for T-Paw to re-think video strategy?

For the most part, Tim Pawlenty has done a good job of using YouTube.  His team clearly understand the online video medium as a unique communications vehicle, rather than as a place to warehouse TV ads.  Pawlenty and Co. use video often, and the videos are stylistically consistent.

But this video, entitled “Behind-the-scenes at Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s announcement in Des Moines, IA” and posted last week, is a bit disappointing:

That’s not a “Behind the Scenes” video.  Those are actual scenes.  There are clips of the speech and clips from the media coverage of Pawlenty’s announcement, but no candid moments from the candidate.  The best part of the video is a mere ten-second stretch featuring Pawlenty supporters explaining their support.

Now imagine this as the “behind-the-scenes” video” instead:  60 seconds of people in the Pawlenty crowd talking about why they came out to support T-Paw, cut with pictures of homemade signs, and maybe even ten seconds of the candidate talking with supporters in a handshake line.  There would be no music and no voice-overs.

Tim Pawlenty is going to spend the next few months juxtaposed against two incredibly polished professional politicians in Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.  He will need to be able to contrast himself from both.  His videos are not bad, but standing alone they will give the impression that Pawlenty is trying to out-Romney Romney or out-Obama Obama.  If he tries to be someone he is not, Pawlenty will lose his fight for the nomination.

In a campaign where he constantly reiterates the need for honesty and sincerity, Pawlenty would be wise to let some of that come out – and let his videos create a mood rather than a separation between him and the voters.

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T-Paw’s impeccable timing

He may not win the GOP nomination, but Tim Pawlenty has his timing down pat.

From the carefully timed announcement of his exploratory committee – before any other major contender, but not too early – to his Johnny-on-the-spot criticisms of the current administration, Pawlenty has been quick on the draw at just the right moment.

It happened again today, with Pawlenty’s official announcement of his Presidential bid.

The big story over the weekend was Mitch Daniels bowing out of the race.  The stories about the “weak” Republican field were already written: you saw them after Mike Huckabee’s exit earlier this month, and even after Donald Trump’s withdrawal before that.  Each time that story gets rewritten, it’s bad news for Tim Pawlenty; it makes the Republican field sound like Mitt Romney and the Seven Dwarfs, with him as one of the dwarfs.  (Possibly Bashful.)

By announcing just two days after Daniels’s deferral, Pawlenty answers those stories without whining that he’s being overlooked.  He keeps his donors and activists engaged, and he keeps his campaign moving forward.

And that’s all he has to do right now.  With Daniels stepping aside, the path for Pawlenty to the nomination becomes clearer:  has a sporting shot at winning the Iowa caucuses, and after he’s a very plausible contender in South Carolina and possibly Florida.  Coming out of the early states within striking distance of Romney would make Pawlenty a viable alternative for conservative activists who can’t get excited about Romney’s policy baggage (i.e. health care).

Slow and steady may not sound like the way to win a presidential race, but at this point who’s going to argue with Pawlenty’s timing?

The GOP Primary Presents: “Answering For Santino” Week

The three front runners for the Republican nomination each have baggage, and since last week we’ve seen their strategies for dealing with it.  Tim Pawlenty is very sorry about signing a cap-and-trade bill while he governed Minnesota; Mitt Romney has some ‘splainin’ to do to get people to quit using the word “Romneycare”; and Newt Gingrich… well, Newt’s got kind of a Cee Lo Green thing going on with his previous support for aggressive environmental action:

“I’d do a commercial with Al Gore,” Gingrich said last May in an interview with the website Human Events. “My point is conservatives ought to be prepared to stand on the same stage and offer a conservative solution.”

Pawlenty’s strategy is probably the best for now (pending Romney’s speech).  It is, appropriately enough, safe and genuine, but Gingrich is at least sort of right, too.  This line of messaging does help to further the idea that he is the Thinking Republican’s Candidate to a degree.  But the audience shouldn’t be conservatives (at least, not quite so obviously).

The past five years are absolutely full of examples of grassroots activists demonstrating that they don’t like to be lectured to.  There was Marco Rubio besting Charlie Crist in Republican primary polls (and eventually the general election), Joe Miller over Lisa Murkowski, and Rand Paul over Trey Grayson in Kentucky’s Senate race.  If you feel like going back farther and crossing the aisle, ask Joe Lieberman how rank and file Democrats felt about him in 2006.

You don’t like being lectured to.  Do you hear me?  You don’t like it.  (You do, however, appreciate irony, I hope.)

The point is, that instead of scolding conservatives that they should be stewards of the environment, Gingrich should be more inclusive.  Consider how his second sentence above would sound with a slightly different perspective:

“My point is that we can stand on the same stage and offer better, more creative solutions that will protect our environment without putting people out of work.”

Wouldn’t that make you feel a little bit better about being on the same side as Gingrich – as if you’re both part of the same winning team?

Trump, GOP ’12 hopefuls, and The Birth Certificate of Destiny

Up until the last month or so, President Obama had no reason to release a birth certificate and every reason to let the conspiracy theorists opine that he was a secret Muslim born in Kenya.  Every time they did, established Republicans had to scramble to distance themselves from the so-called “birthers.”

Then came Donald Trump’s big mouth, and the birth certificate came soon after.   Why would the President engage on this issue now?  Without the birth certificate, the Republican 2012 primary debates would shape up with the more traditional candidates (Romney, Pawlenty, et. al.) distracted from their core issues.

It may be that the President has internal poll numbers which show that the issue is taking a solid foothold among the electorate (despite more public polls that demonstrate a collective “meh,” even among those who think Obama is from Mars).

But maybe the President wants the GOP to avoid the distractions after all and engage in spirited discussions on their core issues – namely, federal spending.  After watching the ever-more-moribund Republican messaging on smaller government over the past few weeks, the President may look at this as a fight he can win.

When he tunes into Fox news in a few months for the first primary debates, the President would rather have Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty argue over who will cut entitlement spending than have them both deny conspiracy theories.

Obama’s release also solidifies Trump’s candidacy.  A month ago Trump was a novelty; now there can be no denying that his campaign has had some sort of impact.  When the President of the United States reacts to your Today Show interview, you are no longer a complete joke.

And with the certificate released, Trump may have a chance to mouth off on other, more important important issues such as energy policy, health care, and the size of government.  A blunt, unapologetic voice countering the policies of the current administration is what makes Chris Christie and exciting candidate.  Since Christie remains firm that a 2012 shot is out of the question, that role is most likely filled by Trump.

The Obama campaign is probably delighted by the idea of Republicans having to deal with the Trump candidacy in the early primaries, betting that his loud, unfocused rhetoric will distract the rest of the field.  The best way for him to claim his share of attention is, ultimately, to talk about real issues rather than moot issues.  By taking the birth certificate conspiracy theory off the table, the White House made Trump a slightly more serious voice for the primaries.

Obama announces; Pawlenty fires back

Since it was no secret that President Obama would run for re-election, Republican opponents had no reason to be slow in their response.  Tim Pawlenty took the first crack today with his newest video, “A New Direction“:

Pawlenty’s immediate, polished, and pithy video response shows keen preparation and intelligence.  The fact that he was the only Republican challenger in a position to make a video like this is one more reason one more reason he was smart to form his exploratory committee when he did.

Check out the contrast in style between Pawlenty’s video and the Obama announcement:

Pawlenty’s response mimics his previous trailers/videos, with thunderous background music and a serious tone.  Recognized voices of the left (like Paul Krugman) are skillfully used to point to the flaws in Obama’s policies, and the candidate (or candidate-to-be, officially) is the star.  Since the knock on T-Paw has been that he’s too bland and “Minnesota Nice” to rile up and motivate voters, the stirring rallying cry is his way of making the election seem like the fulcrum on which the lever of history will turn (or something like that) and positioning himself as the Man Our Times Cry Out For.

Meanwhile, Obama’s laid back video focuses on volunteers.  The criticism that Obama is self-centered and self-aggrandized is counterbalanced with the low-key collection of individuals talking about what they can do to re-elect the President.  If fact, Obama doesn’t even appear in the video, though he did “send” the email to supporters that announced the video.  Significantly, the first three supporters hail from North Carolina, Colorado, and Nevada – three traditionally red states that Obama carried in 2008.

The different styles reflect two different audiences.  Obama and his campaign handlers know that his announcement video is going to make the evening news, whether it’s a thoughtful call to supporting the policies of the last two years or the President delivering an autotuned address about the wonders of Friday.  (Actually, that second option would probably get an awful lot more press, but in a not-as-good kind of way.)  So his video is directed at the people who put him in office: the ones who made phone calls, knocked on doors and urged friends and neighbors to schlep out to polling places.  The video attempts to frame his re-election as every bit the grassroots movement as his 2008 election, despite the vast advantages of incumbency.

(Also worth noting is how one Obama supporter, Ed from North Carolina, echoes an old George W. Bush talking point from 2004: “I don’t agree with Obama on everything.  But I respect him and I trust him.”)

Pawlenty’s team also knew that the President’s announcement would be  guaranteed coverage.  So his video is built to take advantage of that press exposure – and earn coverage of his own to help lift his name recognition numbers.

What’s so great about “Standing with Scott”?

Tim Pawlenty received some attention for a recent video highlighting his tea party bona fides.  But as I wrote over at Pundit League, it’s his “Standing with Scott” video that means the most to T-Paw’s nascent campaign for the Presidency.

Unlike his other videos, which mix action-movie trailer style with platitudes about America’s problems and potential, “Standing with Scott” pointedly takes on public sector unions in general and the mess in Wisconsin in particular.  The footage of students cluelessly protesting based on their teachers’ instructions along with the direct criticism of the President give the video a clear, policy-driven message while maintaining a broad appeal.  It touches on specific issues without going into so much depth that the average viewer would turn away.  In that way, it’s a good road map for future messaging.

The video is also significant for who is not featured in it: Tim Pawlenty himself.  Outside of a mention at the beginning and a quote at the end, the former Minnesota governor is nowhere to be found.  With other videos featuring a heavy dose of T-Paw, the series run the risk of becoming an exercise in glorification.  More videos like “Standing with Scott” can counterbalance that.

And the video goes beyond messaging, directing viewers back to a landing page where they can sign up for the Freedom First PAC mailing list.  (It would be better if the page included facts about Walker’s position in Wisconsin, but it’s better than nothing.)

Pawlenty’s videos are an attempt to elevate the rhetoric and the urgency of the campaign and position the former Governor as a transformational leader in the mold of Obama.  But empty rah-rah speeches ring hollow in the ears of savvy activists.  If “Standing with Scott” becomes a first step – and more similar videos follow on other issues as they arise – questions about whether Pawlenty’s “Minnesota nice” personality can play on the Presidential stage may be answered.

The race for 2012 started last week

With the mid-term elections fresh in the rear view mirror, the serious contenders for the 2012 Presidential nomination are unofficially kicking off their campaigns.  And the two likely front runners, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney, have started with a pretty smart Facebook strategy.

At TechRepublican, Ethan Demme noticed Mitt Romney’s new Facebook ads running immediately after the election, congratulating “high profile” candidates.  Tim Pawlenty has been doing the same thing.  But the strategy appears to be even more specific than that.  Here are the ads I saw:

What does incoming Arkansas Congressman Tim Griffin have in common with the Feingold-conquering Wisconsonite Senator-elect Ron Johnson?  Turns out, I’ve clicked “like” on both of their Facebook pages.  (I’ve also seen Romney ads supporting former and future Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, whose Facebook page I’ve also liked.)  In other words, I’m a self-identified supporter of these politicians – a factor that Facebook’s ad platform allows campaigns to take into account when they target advertising.

By playing on the interest of possible supporters, Romney and Pawlenty share an excellent outreach strategy.  The question will become what each campaign does with the supporters they recruit.  Pawlenty has already made a push to take advantage of Facebook’s capability for activation through interactive town halls, while Romney’s page is more or less a one-way communications channel – but neither has taken a decisive lead in innovation on this platform.