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Cruz, Clinton Demonstrate The Importance of Staying On Message


Message is the foundation of nearly all communications efforts.

It’s an important lesson for aspiring reputation managers and, for that matter, for marketing communicators overall. For any strategic communications endeavor worth its salt, message should populate nearly every piece of content, every word said to the media or every line of copy in an advertisement. 

For those of us who have conducted media training for executives or spokespeople, we spend countless hours crafting messages, anticipating questions, and creating appropriate answers in an effort to stay on message. Why? Because reporters can only write or report what is stated by an organization or person, and if we say the right things — even over and over again — it typically delivers the intended outcome.

I recall a media training exercise I conducted with a an executive who was leading the creation of a healthcare exchange in accordance with Obamacare. Two days following the training he spoke with a CNN reporter covering the issue and called me immediately afterwards.

“They asked me the exact questions you drilled me on,” he said.

Message is the foundation of nearly all communications efforts, which leads us to the cases of two aspiring presidents.

As he seeks the Republican nomination for president, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz recently addressed global warming, saying, “…there has been no significant warming whatsoever,” for the past 18 years. He made the claim in spite of data from data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) demonstrating that, year-to-date, 2015 stands alone as the warmest on record by the sizable margin.

This is not a new claim by Cruz. Last March, he told late-night TV’s Seth Meyers, “…many of the alarmists on global warming, they’ve got a problem because the science doesn’t back them up.” He continued his narrative in the face of retired Rear Admiral David Titley, a meteorologist who previously served as an oceanographer for the Navy, standing strong while Titley outlined how Cruz’s 18-year dataset begins just before the exceptionally warm El Niño year of 1998 and, out of context, makes recent warming appear less dramatic.

Does Cruz have an agenda? Certainly, as he needs to protect large energy and manufacturing companies who financially support the party and the rightwing voters who’ve been conditioned to think global warming is a myth. But his message has been consistent and simple — global warming is a crock — and he sticks with his message regardless of the opposition.

Then there is the case of democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton and the question of whether or not classified emails ended up on her personal server.

In March of 2015, Clinton said flatly, “There is no classified material.” In July, however, the FBI determined she’d received classified information in her account. Her campaign responded that sensitive national security information was sometimes upgraded to classified at a later date if the State Department or another agency believed its inadvertent release, “could potentially harm national security or diplomatic relations.” The campaign went on to insist that none of the materials were classified at the time she received them, a well-nuanced but mildly divergent message from her March statement.

Then, in Septemberan inspector general’s review found that some of the content from emails Clinton received were classified at the time she received them, though they were not marked as such. She responded, “I did not send or receive any information marked classified,” retreating back to the original position.

Politics are exceptionally polarizing so let’s be clear here — this is not about party affiliation or conservatives vs. liberals. It’s about messaging and consistency, and any politician or organizational spokesperson who excels at navigating media engagements invests a significant amount of time practicing message discipline.

In Cruz’s case — whether you agree with him or not — the senator had a message, he and his handlers know it appeals to the audience they wish to reach, and their strategy continues to consistently and persistently stay with the narrative until the bitter end. Clinton and her team — typically excellent at remaining on message — in this case have demonstrated a degree of inconsistency although the email saga has been a minor speed bump in her relatively smooth pathway towards the Democratic nomination.

What’s the ultimate lesson? Message is the foundation of nearly all communications efforts.

Did you see what I did there?

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