-- Ancient Aztec curse –
NOTE: please read prior post, “Lobbyists (1): Tips, Tricks, Traps.” There is far more interest in this subject than I had anticipated – over 190 hits in three hours.
An expansion follows…
I. Although our topic is lobbyists, we cannot leave out pr firms. As chronic gripers will note, snakes travel in pairs.
The minute you announce you are running for office, salesmen will knock on your door. I especially liked the fat, ballpoint pen and button guy.
Also, for general elections, people from the national Republican or Democratic party, as well as all sorts of consultants from WASHINGTON D:C. will magically materialize to “help you,” to give you the “benefit” of their “experience,” they have "contacts" and can "plug you in" to "big money" -- i.e., try to sell you something. I always listened politely to these Beltway bandits. If you hire one, get ready: they will spend a lot of time learning facts about your state that your third-grader knows (“The capital is…”) -- time which guess who will pay for.
In searching for a pr firm, when in doubt use common sense. Find somebody else´s political campaign ads you like. Contact the campaign or look at their filing report. You´ll have the name of the media firm that morning.
Pr guys are like pharmacists: they always try to sell you the most expensive medicine first. Don`t buy it. In truth, sometimes the best ad is no ad:
I was working for a candidate who was behind but had The Big Mo -- momentum. Suddenly, the opponent, an incumbent, came out with a brand spanking new TV ad. Spanking was right -- I have to hand it to those guys; it was the best attack ad I´ve ever seen.
We were doing tracking polls. The attack ad was starting to kill our momentum. The election was a month away. We knew it would be decided by less than 4,000 people.
What to do?
Our media consultant favored a new pricey ad with all manner of bells and whistles. I saw our campaign director´s jaw hit the floor when a figure was mentioned. I turned to her.
“How much cash do we have in the bank?”
“I´ll explain later. Cut a check for $20,000. Make it out to…”
I rushed downtown to a TV station. The news director knew me; years earlier, I had done election night analysis for him. I said I wanted one ad run five times a day until the money ran out. I showed him the check; his mouth watered.
“Good idea,” he wisely counseled. He stuck his hand out: Your ad, please.
“You already have it.”
He blinked. “Oh, you mean the one about the …”
“No. The ad that shows ...”
He blinked again. “Tom, I believe that is your opponent´s ad.”
“You are correct.”
“O.K., let´s see if I´ve got this right. You want to pay $20,000 to run your opponent´s ad.”
“Yes. And we want to start tonight on the weather report.” I looked at my watch for emphasis.
“Ah… that…I´ve never heard of such a thing. I have to call the station manager.”
The manager said the ad was the opponent´s property and we did not have the right to run it. However, if the opponent approved, there was no problem.
The News Director called him and explained the proposition. There was a long silence. The Director then asked if he wanted to talk to me. I heard a shuffle; the campaign manager came on the line.
“Ha, how obvious!” he shouted: “If Dr. Movidas wants to run our ad that means there´s something wrong with it.”
Not only was permission not granted, the ad was pulled. It sank beneath the air waves forever.
The reason why our outrageous nonsense was neither outrageous nor nonsense:
We knew the opponent was not polling on his ad, hence lacked knowledge of its effectiveness. We knew that because…they had polled me at home. I pressed the record button; we had the whole thing. It was one of those motorized polls of randomly-chosen phone numbers, with the dead surf Nazi computer voice droning forth from some place back East.
II. As for hiring lobbyists, also start with common sense. Find a hard-won victory in your subject area. Attention: mini-bantamweight wins don`t count. In the sort of legislative politics, there is no mini-bantamweight class. Call around; you will have the victorious lobbyist´s name that day.
I always asked prospective pr firms and lobbyists the same question:
“Who is the best in the world at what you do?”
Inevitable answer: “We are.”
“O.K. Then, who is the second best?”
Inevitable pause. “Well…”
Nearly all of them mentioned the same firm. I contacted it, looked at their stuff; we hired them. Our candidate won in an upset. No second best there.
Beware of lobbyists who drop names. Jerry Wexler, producer at Atlantic Records and discoverer of Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, was a close family friend. He and his wife, the novelist Jean Arnold, chowed down many times on stone crabs at our place; in return, we drank wine and discussed R & B (Joe Turner, Little Junior Parker, B. B. King, “60 Minute Man,” Hank Ballard, The Five Royals) at his Siesta Key home where there was a photo of Jerry and Bob Dylan on the living room coffee table.
I will now say a few words the likes of which have never been said before, anywhere, by anyone, and which will probably never be said again -- so get ready. Here goes: However, that does not mean I could get you a recording contract or arrange for you to meet Bob Dylan. Shocking, no?
I know, I know: chances are you are absolutely convinced that IF THE KING ONLY KNEW your life would instantly become an infinitely better place. Sorry -- chances are the king already knows, at least in a general way, but can´t do a thing. While we are at it, lobbyists as well as political consultants meet all kinds of politicians and public figures from presidents and prime ministers and senators on down. But when all is said and done -- and it usually is rather quickly -- so what?
I discussed at length the quasi-religious Cult of The Contact in The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion. The mystification of Access by lobbyists is one of numerous stale derivates of that universally-held urban myth.
Like you, I have heard a thousand times: “It´s not what you know but who that counts.” Bull. In the political world you need both. If you are persistent, the first will get you the second. In the music world, too, come to think of it. At least that´s what Jerry Wexler told me.
* * *
I will now give the once-over to six real live pr firms and lobbyists. Why they were selected and the dollar amounts noted beside them will be explained shortly. I´ll tell you right off the bat there is only one I would not hire.
There is no conflict of interest. I have never worked for any of the firms or their opponents.
Finally, I will base my opinions entirely on public information. I found over 90% of it on the firms´ own web sites. After all, if they cannot present themselves well, why should they be able to faithfully re-present you -- i.e., present over again somebody who is not there?
The task at hand: weeding out pr firms and lobbyists afflicted with the incurable Big Mouth Small Brain Syndrome. What matters in this quest is not this or that detail but the logic involved, the reasoning process, the type of questions asked. Here they are.
As always, you be the judge:
1. Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter and Associates. $100,000 paid for distribution of printed material. A logistical, mechanical service, probably all right as far as it goes. I would be reluctant to take this firm further, however. Watch one of its members, Beau Phillips, in action: Was my computer on the blink? I didn´t hear a single new word or profound thought anywhere.
Gaffs are the result of unconscious forces. Part of the offender´s psyche does not want him to succeed and is sabotaging him. Freud discussed in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life how lapses such as Perry had in the debate Phillips discussed, slips of the tongue, forgetting, bolts from the blue, are not accidental. Also, C.G. Jung analyzed at length the “trickster figure,” an unconscious archetype common to all Homo sapiens that trips them up, makes them say and do stupid things.
I never worked for gaffers. I did, however, work against them on several occasions.
What a gaffer is unconsciously looking for is confirmation -- final, indisputable -- in hard electoral numbers, that he is a worthless human being, stupid, a scammer and put-on, that he is unfit to be president or representative, husband, friend or father. The voters are ready, willing and able to hand him the judgment he so desperately craves. I would develop this point but see no reason to help Mitt Romney, Joe Biden and other gaffers get where they really want to go. It is not the White House.
For me, Chlopak et al lacks focus, e.g., one of the partners “co-owns a winery and is one of Virginia’s longest goat farmers.” As everybody knows, there´s nothing worse than a short goat farmer. O.K., communications experts: Why are you telling me this?
2. DTB Associates LLP. $241,000 paid for political consulting and international relations advice. Craig Thorn is the chief lobbyist.
This is the quiet little company nobody is talking about. DTB specializes in agricultural affairs and associated trade negotiating. Its lobbyists have held positions of responsibility in government in the relevant area.
The web site is a no-nonsense presentation, direct, to the point. Not a whiff of blue smoke anywhere. As for knowledge of their field, look at their reports and articles, e.g., "Corn and Biotechnology - An International Perspective."
I found only one name dropped, Senator Dick Lugar.
Agricultural politics is a world unto itself. Manuel Clouthier, Mexican PAN presidential candidate who I interviewed in 1988 and who was killed shortly thereafter in a mysterious car accident (see post of 3-19-2012 “´Intellectual Cowardice´ – George Orwell”) talked my head off about duties on tomatoes. The agricultural area is complex; don´t try this at home or without parental guidance.
DTB is small, knowledgeable, experienced. The profile I like.
3. Fenton Communications. $1,152,000 for media relations, public relations.
What Ailes Roger? It could be this issue-oriented, progressive, media campaign organization.
I worked with many pr firms on political campaigns, mostly shaping our poll results into their TV, newspaper and radio ads, mailers and brochures. I judged their work according to the following criterion:
In politics you want each thing you say and do to serve numerous constructive purposes; you want, in short, to be economical. In that regard, a publicity spot should appeal to the widest possible voting-age audience. To do so, the spot must bring into play all four psychic functions (Jung): thinking, intuition, sensation and feeling. (By the way, that instantly knocks out 95% of Hollywood-style movies; they are 95% sensation – car chases and crashes, explosions. Their goal is not to get voters to the polls but to herd male teenagers to theaters on opening weekend.)
Fenton´s video against puppy farms (click on “studio”) is a perfect example of a publicity spot firing on all four cylinders. The escaped cartoon character engages the unconscious, which is where the real action is.*
Overall, Fenton´s works have the type of energy that only personal commitment to a cause can generate.
4. Blue Star Strategies, LLC. $92,000 paid for public relations.
Click on “What We Do.” The real question is, “What do we not do?” One partner “focuses on the Latin America practice, specifically in the areas of infrastructure, education, energy and international relations.” Do you also do kitchen sinks? Pheew -- makes me exhausted just thinking about it.
As the prior post warned, be leery of political contacts. Blue Star: “In late 2002 after having led President Clinton’s transition to New York and having established his post-presidency office and philanthropic work, Karen Tramontano returned to Washington, DC, joining Sally’s practice.” There are different ways to read this experience: (see this blog´s post 11-10-2011, “The Second American Revolution: Part 10,” for an article on Clinton`s philanthropy). Sure, politicians like Clinton have friends; they also have enemies. Who is the chairman of the committee who will be hearing your bill? Better find out…
Too much fluff for my taste. Specific example: click on “Case Studies.” You will see that, for a strangely-unidentified Eastern European nation that hired Blue Star: “The two major results were (1) key officials from around the world began to pay attention to the election, and (2) as a direct result our client received many more votes on Election Day. With this margin they were then able to leverage his success into an influential role in the new government.” Key officials -- who they? Around the world -- where that? Began to pay attention -- what that? Many more votes -- what them? 3,740? 26,490? How measured? Influential role? O.K., I give up. What are we supposed to do with such statements?
In 1990, I was living in the Holiday Inn in Mexico City. We were lining up at the buffet when I saw behind me The One, The Only boxer Jorge “El Maromero” Paéz, He was preparing to defend his featherweight crown. I told him to go first: "I want to see what champions eat for breakfast." During that week in the gym his team and I talked. We agreed that election campaigns are a lot like boxing. What it all comes down to was stated in four little words by Angelo Dundee, trainer of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, in the title of his book: I Only Talk Winning (1985). Me too. Margins are marginal. Sorry.
Finally, click on Blue Star´s “Recent News.” Talk about being all over the place…You will see a photo of the airport in Nice, France. Gosh, the French Riviera. Are we supposed to think of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, fireworks? Romance, fame, fortune? I lived in Nice for 5 months with French families. Great pizza and salads; if you`re into Matisse you`ll be on top of the world. Wonderful light if you`re a painter. Yep, Monaco is just down the road; don`t miss the Cousteau aquarium and the botanical gardens. Other than that, I hate to tell you this but people in Nice get up and go to work pretty much like they do in (GASP! SHUDDER!!) New Jersey.
5. Foley Hoag, LLP. $121,365.64 paid for lobbying, legal and “other” services. A law firm, one of the biggies; specializes in business and industry. If I had a business problem, particularly copyrights, with a government at home or abroad, I would definitely give Foley Hoag a call. Click on their “services” to get a global idea of what they offer. I can`t say enough about this firm, so I won`t.
Finally, we come to
6. Patton Boggs. $664,669.06 for public relations. Tack on $65,000 per month for “Legal advice and representation of Ecuador in meetings with functionaries of the Executive branch and congress of the United States.”
Ecuador: Now you know who the client was for the above list. The Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo published an article giving the names of the six United States pr firms/lobbyists the government of Ecuador contracted with for 2007-2012, and how much was paid. An Ecuadorian friend (not a government official) wanted to know what I thought of the American firms.
Patton Boggs´ signature statement is “Where others see challenges, we see possibilities.”
Well, Patton Boggs, where you see possibilities, I see problems. Gigantic, messy problems.
I will discuss one of them in the next post.
*Unconscious elements in the art of convincing were discussed in The Source of Terrorism and in three articles on momentum. Via musicology -- a completely unacceptable field in the social sciences -- we entered the logic of emotions. After discovering who was interested and why, I dropped all further inquiry into this fruitful but dangerous area.