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June 24, 2001 - Political Marketing - 2002-01-31

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble. This week on Wordmaster -- need help sounding genuine? Some tips from a political trainer.

RS: Mark Montini runs a firm called Complete Communication Strategies. He's also a trainer at the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia, what he calls the "human resources department for the conservative movement."

AA: Mark Montini says that in politics, it's -- quote -- "marketing first, policy second."


MONTINI: "And it's not because policy is less important, but the bottom line is, if people don't buy the policy, the policy is not going to be around for very long."

RS: "Well, what does it take to be a successful marketer of political policy?"

MONTINI: "Well, I really think the main thing, of course, and the most important thing, is to really have a foundation of knowing what you believe, because what most people associate marketing with in public policy is this bad word that we call 'spin,' and they think, 'Oh, spin means that you just say whatever people want to hear. You don't say what you believe.' And unfortunately there are people out there on both sides who are willing to say whatever people want to hear, and I suppose you could call that spin, but what we're talking about is, once you know what you believe, then you focus on how do you communicate that to the people."

RS: "Well, what are the major points that you recommend to be a better communicator?"

MONTINI: "Probably the biggest thing actually is pretty easy, and it goes all the way back, I like to tell people, to kindergarten, when you're in school, or in pre-school. And that is, we've got to become better storytellers. And a lot of times we get so caught up in the numbers, and we get so caught up in the specifics, we forget to tell our story of this is how it's going to make your lives better. I mean, Bill Clinton, like Ronald Reagan, had a story for everything, and that's what makes them such powerful communicators is because by telling a story what you do is you allow people to visualize what you're talking about."

RS: "How important are the words you use?"

MONTINI: "The words you use are important in the sense that, at the end of the day, especially in politics, if people want to criticize you they're going to go back to the words that you use and find that you maybe misspoke here or maybe you didn't have a perfect subject-verb agreement here. But when you're in front of an audience, study after study after study shows us that the two most powerful parts of communication are actually the way you look and the way you sound, not the words that you use. And so, to answer your question, they're extremely important at the end of the day but in terms of getting your message out there -- "

AA: "In the morning..." [laughter]

MONTINI: "Yeah, in the morning, exactly, but in terms of getting people out there and getting them motivated, I'm more concerned with what they see, who they see and how you sound."


AA: "Do you look credible, Rosanne? Does she look credible?"

RS: "Do I look credible?"

MONTINI: "Absolutely, Rosanne." And, he says, looking credible is what's important

AA: "Why -- what makes her look credible?"

MONTINI: "Well, what you're looking for is someone who's comfortable, someone who's confident in what they're saying, someone who is filling the bill of how they've been sold. I mean, if you're not the most articulate, if you're not the most attractive person, don't package yourself as the articulate orator or the most attractive candidate, because people respect genuine candidates, they respect genuine people."

RS: And how do genuine people express, let's say, outrage?


"One of the things we know is that when we get upset, we tend to shorten our words. And when you're upset, you get those words off and you [snapping fingers] snap them real quickly off of your tongue, and so you can't get up and tell ... people ... that ... you're ... upset, when you're stretching your words, because it doesn't sound like you're upset. At the same point you have to raise your voice."

AA: Mark Montini has also consulted in Greece, Canada and Chile, offering a taste of American-style political communication skills.


"We are just in the United States starting to learn these skills ourselves. I mean, really, it's a recent phenomenon over the last probably 20 years, and so you go to a lot of the other countries that are looking to the United States as an example, and when you say, for example, that you've got to smile more, you've got the group of people that say, 'oh, no, no, we can't smile, we're political leaders, people look to us to be serious. And I asked when I was in Greece one of the guys, I said, 'well, tell me, who's the most popular personality in your country, and he immediately without any hesitation told me it was a lady who was on TV. And I said, 'I've never seen her show but I can guarantee you she smiles the whole show.' And he thought about it, and he smiled at me, and he said, 'You know what? That's right.'"

AA: Mark Montini, president of Complete Communication Strategies in Fairfax, Virginia.

RS: Let Avi and me put a smile on your face -- by answering your questions about American English! Write to VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC two-zero-two-three-seven U-S-A or With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC: "When You're Smiling (the Whole World Smiles with You")/Cliff Bruner's Texas Wanderers