Political advisor, communications strategist and producer Mark McKinnon is the co-creator and co-executive producer of Showtime’s The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth. Mark was chief media advisor to five successful presidential primary and general election campaigns. Anticipating his presentation at the 2017 Strategic Summit on May 9-10 — revealing the intense, inspiring and infuriating stories behind the headlines — we asked Mark for some lessons learned from the presidential primary and general election campaigns.
SUMMIT DIRECTOR: Whether in business or politics, you’ve said that the most successful campaigns all start with a compelling story. Once the candidate wins — or a new business initiative achieves buy-in — how do you sustain the narrative?
Mark McKinnon: The narrative is just as important once the campaign is over or the product has been launched. In order to sustain support, a compelling narrative must be sustained, which requires incredible discipline and focus.
SUMMIT DIRECTOR: Polls show how tired Americans are of the bitter political divide. How do we begin to find common ground?
Mark McKinnon: Citizens are getting increasingly tired and frustrated by government dysfunction. And they care less and less about loyalty to party. Increasingly, voters are saying, “I don’t care if it’s a Democratic solution or a Republican solution, I just want Washington to start solving problems.”
Organizations like No Labels, of which I am a cofounder, are doing great work facilitating getting Democrats and Republicans to work more together. And you’d be surprised how many members are getting involved.
SUMMIT DIRECTOR: In the Trump era, companies and entire industries are getting pulled into political debate, and many appear nervous or ill-prepared for the spotlight. What counsel can chief communications officers provide when “the uninvited guest” shows up knocking on the C-Suite?
Mark McKinnon: If you want to be successful today, you better be prepared to be in the spotlight whether you seek it or not. Because it’s likely to find you. And when it does, you better not melt. Preparation is key. Be ready for anything.
SUMMIT DIRECTOR: U.S. presidential elections always garner extensive media coverage. But “The Circus: Inside the Greatest Media Show on Earth,” which you co-produced for Showtime, brought new meaning to the phrase “media circus.” What was so different about last year’s election, and what does it mean for the future of communications and public relations?
Mark McKinnon: Almost everything was different about this election. We’ll be studying it for years. You can take about half the lessons we knew about campaigns and effective communications strategies and throw ‘em out the window.
But, in a way it really means a more robust future for communications and public relations because the landscape has really changed. For a long time, everyone was kind of playing on the same field under the same old rules. This election is like the introduction of the forward pass to football. Everyone is scrambling now to adapt and change their game plan.