Politics at the Speed of the Net
Politics can be a strange thing, said Brian Selander, a 2011 Toll Fellow and chief strategy officer for Delaware Gov. Jack Markell.
“The weird thing about politics though, public service, is if you walk into a room of 100 people, 30 of them hate you,” he said. “I mean hate you—if you were laying bleeding on the side of a road, they’d stop to steal your wallet hate you. You’re really popular; that means 70 percent of the people don’t hate you like that. You’ve got to have thick skin to walk into a room and know that even if you’re the most popular person in Idaho Falls, there’s still 15 percent of Idaho Falls that’s going to dislike you no matter what.”
Selander was the featured speaker at a session about how to craft and control your message at The Council of State Governments’ National Leadership Conference in La Quinta, Calif. He has worked with public officials in more than 20 states since he began his career in 1994.
Selander said getting your message across used to be a lot easier when everyone in the country was getting their news from just three channels.
“That was a much more fun period than now, where, ‘Oh my God, there are 7,000 things going on simultaneously and I’m right in the middle of it,’” he said. “I have no idea where things are coming from because people are tweeting and blog posting and linking and calling. … And somehow, through all of this mess and all of this dialogue emerges my message and my piece of narrative that I have much less control of than I ever did before.”
Selander said he counters the overabundance of information, in part, by stressing the same thing every time he talks to reporters, bloggers and constituents.
“The only thing we talk about really is jobs, jobs, jobs,” Selander said. “Everything we talk about is connected directly to how do we get people back to work. Everywhere we go, Jack’s message is, ‘I want to make Delaware the best place to raise a family or start a business.’ And every single issue we talk about, we bring it around back to jobs.”
Although governors must deal with a wide variety of issues, bringing the conversation back around to jobs isn’t as hard as you might think, Selander said.
“Schools, everybody wants strong schools, but why are they important when it comes to jobs?” he asked. “Because employers want to locate in places with great public schools. Investing in schools is investing in jobs, because employers choose a place where they can put their kids in public schools.
“Public safety used to stand alone; I recommend that it connects fully to jobs. People want to locate businesses and expand businesses in places that are safe. … The environment, depending on the way you look at it, can also be about jobs. … The debate on talk radio is environmental laws kill jobs, but the counter to that is people want to build jobs and raise families in places with clean air, clean water and a livable environment.”
Selander said communicating with the public now takes a united effort on many fronts. It’s about press releases, yes, but it also needs to include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. While all of it can seem intimidating, it’s necessary in this day and age.
“If you’re not telling a story through those channels,” Selander said, “somebody is telling a story about you through those channels. If you’re not on Facebook explaining the great things you and your constituents are doing, somebody is on Facebook saying what they think about you. If you’re not on Twitter explaining the great things that you’re doing, somebody else is out there saying things about you.
“It really just boils down to, you have to. If you don’t take the time to make your own case, nobody’s going to make it for you.”