As the pundits move on to dissecting every aspect of the election like a poor sad and groggy frog in high school science class getting the life sucked out of it in a tiny glass container (ok yes I just watched E.T.), I offer my humble opinion about what happened to the Romney campaign. Some of you will say I am a Monday morning quarterbacking, but first of all—I don't care. And second of all, my closest advisors know I have been whining about this for months.
After all, I did call it. The turning point of the election. The day Gov. Mitt Romney lost. It wasn't Nov. 6. It was the day he let America in on his biggest secret. A secret his close friends and family most likely have known for a long time.
The man cannot sing.
So you're thinking really? That's the big secret? Well as a PR professional who started out as a news reporter, I am a consummate studier and connoisseur of communication. And from a public relations perspective, the Romney campaign was plagued with one PR disaster after another. But the day that Mitt Romney sang "America the Beautiful" to compete with President Obama's rendition of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together"represents the perfect analogy of how this election was lost. Because after all, it was his to lose.
It's the economy, stupid.
All signs pointed toward Romney. Whether you bleed red or blue, the fact of the matter is the economy is in the toilet. People are without jobs, losing their homes, and we're saddled with the largest debt in the history of our country. Those are the facts. The argument for the challenger should have been easy. Especially a challenger so proven and skilled at business.
A fact eloquently echoed by a facilitator of a seminar I was sitting in a about a month ago. He summed it up perfectly when he said this about Mitt Romney: "This is a man who has never had a business failure. He hasnever had a moral failure. He attended Harvard Business School and Law School at the same time. Only about 15 people have ever accomplished this. And people don't like him. Because he doesn't do a good job of telling his own story. He is letting someone else (the Obama campaign) tell his story for him."
This is dead on. We live in an age of stories. With Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogging, plus the traditional media outlets, only the best story breaks through. And if you don't have yours straight, and then don't do a good job selling it, the rest of the world will make it up, tell it and sell it for you.
Tell your story. Don't let someone else do it for you.
Instead of refuting the story being told about him, Mitt Romney perpetuated it.
Starting with the basics. How about some candidate coaching? You would think with one billion dollars, someone would have paid for a good coach.
I have actually personally met Mitt Romney at a private in event in Sarasota. In person, I liked him a lot. He was warm, sincere, engaging and an excellent speaker. He was funny and charismatic. Nothing like his on camera persona. On TV and at big events Romney always seemed to have a forced smile, a stiff walk and a condescending tone.
When he spoke on camera it reminded me of how my dad sounded when I got busted sneaking out of the house in high school. And then there's the smirk. That darn annoying 'I know I am right and you are a moron' smirk. Are you telling me with all of those staffers and all of that money, no one could coach Romney on these basics tenets of how he was being perceived all across America? As a good friend of mine and political strategist said, "Give me 24 hours in a room with Romney and we'll fix him right up."
Contrast that with Obama- a rock star personality with a big toothy grin, fabulous oratory skill and a down to earth regular kind of guy demeanor. When Obama busts into a giant white toothy smile it's contagious. He exudes cool. From the way he jogs off an airplane like a pro-athlete to the way he plays basketball with his buddies to yes, the way he sings. Oh and did I mention - the man can sing. The contrast of Romney's 'America the Beautiful' to Obama's 'Let's Stay Together' is a stark reminder that you should not pretend to be someone you are not.
Instead, embrace who you are and work it. I didn't mind Romney's singing actually. I minded how it was played and spun afterward. A good PR person would have worked it. Spun it. Played him like the lovable family member who tries to make everyone laugh. The goofball who has a serious side but also knows how to relax and have fun. Make a commercial about that guy. Have him sing more! Mitt's family knows that guy. The rest of America never did.
I interviewed his one time sister in law Ronna Romney (was married to his brother for 25 years) who lives on Longboat Key. Flipping through the pages in her family photo album revealed a carefree, fun family man who likes to dance - I saw one where Mitt was doing the YMCA at a family wedding. And another with him in a bathing suit crashing a formal photo of the bridal party. Where was that Mitt during the campaign??
When Obama came to Ft. Pierce, he stopped by a local pizza joint to hang with the locals. Much to the distress of the secret service, he took a big bear hug from a Republican who was overwhelmed by the President's presence. If there were ever a time to copy what the other guy is doing—this would have been it.
But when Mitt Romney came to Sarasota, he had a private fundraiser, made no public stops at any area businesses and had to be convinced to have a public event that was announced and promoted at the last minute. Not good PR.
And finally, embrace the media. We are not all a bunch of wide-eyed blood sucking crazy vultures hiding in the shadows waiting to pounce on any one thing you may do that can be taken out of context or poorly edited in order to vilify you and paint you as a rich and out of touch millionaire who only cares about half the people in America. Ok, so most of us aren't.
But when Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News wants to spend 24 hours with you one-on-one in the last few days before the election, let him! A properly coached candidate would do fine. And when you come to town, throw a bone to the local media—like Obama did when he gave a one-on-one interview to ABC 7's Lauren Dorsett. Don't dodge media questions and ignore them like they are not standing two feet away from you!
Look, I know, as a former losing candidate myself—it's easy to second guess. And politics is hard. I'm not really sure why anyone in his or her right mind would do it. I guess a sincere passion for serving the people and making your community better would be the one common thread that ties most candidates together. And for that, we have to be thankful to them all.
But the morale of my story is this: If you can't sing, don't.
And if you must, trust the professionals to spin in the right way.
And that just happens to be what we do here at Politically Personal. Insert shameless plug. If you want to win, please call us first.