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Thoughts on the RNC’s Upcoming Tech Summit

Tuesday, February 10, 2009  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt
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On Friday, new RNC Chair Michael Steele has summoned some of the best new media/social media thinkers (but far from all of them) to the RNC for a day long sit-down and idea exchange. My favorite anonymous ad exec, Bear in the Woods, e-mailed his thoughts. You can e-mail him at bearinthewoods84@gmail.com:

Hugh:

I wish I could be in DC on Friday. The idea of a GOP Tech Summit is a good one. It’s a good idea, that is, if the right voices are there, if the right voices are heard, and — here’s the real key — if the GOP leadership who are listening even know when the right voices are speaking.

There is, without a doubt, a tech divide between Democrats and
Republicans. But it’s not the only divide. It’s not even the most
important one.[# More #]

The real divide is in an understanding of the culture. And yes, tech — in the form of social media and the web — is how the culture communicates now, and has played a defining role in a cultural shift that has emboldened the consumer (voter) to understand, without a doubt, that they are in charge of the conversation. But simply learning how to use Twitter won’t connect you to voters. Learning how to craft a message that resonates and spreads, however, will.

I want to build a beautiful house. One that will be attractive to
anyone who appreciates elegant architecture. What kind of hammer should I use?

That’s the question I fear the GOP will be asking at the summit. And there will be plenty of pure tech voices there to tell them exactly which hammer to choose, and how to swing it. The problem is, it’s the wrong question. Because the best hammer in the world can build an elegant house, or a rickety shack. And it’s not the skill with which you swing the hammer that determines the difference. It’s the architectural and artistic vision of how the final product will move people emotionally that goes into the plans — before a single nail comes out of the box.

The Democrats have understood, for a couple of generations now, how to use, reflect, and craft popular culture in order to deliver a
compelling message to voters. Their understanding of social media and the web is not so much a superiority of technical understanding as it is a superiority of cultural understanding, and superior skill with media arts. They can craft a message that resonates, and deliver it in all the media that are relevant now. Never mind that the policies behind that message are many times illogical, misguided, and sometimes outright dangerous. The sad truth is, most people don’t pay attention to those details. They embrace the emotional connection, regardless of medium.

The policies are there to inform the rallying cry, to be sure. And
the policies are, ultimately, what matter — once the election is
over. But during the campaign, the rallying cry matters more. We
have better policies. We have crummy rallying cries. And lest I be misunderstood here, I’m not saying it’s as simple as a slogan, or a tagline. Although we know how powerful a simple tagline can be (see: Change). It’s the craft that goes into the creative strategy that produces the tagline, the message, and everything that surrounds it, that can take a complex policy and boil it down into an emotional message people can both Tweet and embrace.

The Dems are great at making (figuratively) a beautiful banner, and getting people to follow it. In contrast, Conservatives tend to
respond with the communications equivalent of a white paper. While it may contain logical, rational, and superior arguments, it’s not much fun to follow. Even on Twitter.

Success in any medium begins with an ability to craft the message. Not the policy. The message — the way the policy is framed in outbound communications — whether it’s a site, a Tweet, a concert, a movie, or a bumper sticker. An understanding of current, relevant electronic media and their accompanying cultures is critical to crafting a successful message in today’s world. But simply understanding a paintbrush doesn’t make you an artist who paints things people want to buy.

Democrats excel at popular culture because they attract and engage those who create it. They step outside the beltway, and outside the political marketing vertical, to tap into people who are good at creating movements, rather than those who are good at managing rhetoric. In order to close the tech gap, Republicans will first have to close the cultural understanding gap. Learning the web and social media is one piece of that puzzle. But they won’t be able to close the cultural gap if they only listen to voices from the inner political circle. And yes, most anyone who’ll attend a Tech Summit at GOP headquarters in the heart of DC can hold some claim (however figurative) to the title, “Inner Circle.” The choir is usually not the best resource for great sermons.

I applaud the Party’s efforts in establishing a Tech Summit. It’s a
good first step. But I have one caution: Popular technology is not
the same as popular culture. Successful communications strategies in today’s world understand: The two are equally important, and inseparable.

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