Bill McIntyre, former National Rifle Association (NRA) chief spokesperson and now EVP at DC-based Grassroots Enterprise, has plenty of experience making partisan arguments. Yet, while recently counseling a client, he argued to colleagues the benefits of reaching out to both sides of the political aisle in a public affairs campaign.
McIntyre describes a requirement of successful public affairs work in the nation's capital as "having your base and stealing a few from the other side." He recalls nudging his colleagues a bit to the right, then convincing a client of the need to appeal to members of both parties.
"The question that [the client] had was, 'Do you think this information is too one-sided in partisanship?' and almost everyone at my office, which means all the liberals, said it seems perfectly fine," he recalls. "I, of course, hit the roof and thought that it was so one-sided that they were going to turn off 50% of their potential audience.
"That, ultimately, turned it around and caused the client to take seriously what I meant and what I was talking about," adds McIntyre. "The client was inclined to rework the material, at least in terms of what I felt. That's a very rare feedback. I won't say I haven't seen it, but it's very rare to see that sort of thing."
McIntyre, compared on his agency's Web site to Col. John "Hannibal" Smith of The A-Team fame, is part of an unlikely management team at Grassroots that also includes John Hlinko, who has worked for MoveOn.org and the presidential campaign of former Gen. Wesley Clark.
The organization walks a fine line in directing its message to members of both parties, but avoiding a centrist approach, which McIntyre describes as "a certain recipe for failure."
"Our clients... know they need to have favorable legislation and favor-able regulations," he says. "That means getting some things passed and some things killed. What you must do is play to both sides with total authenticity - which is totally possible. You can be an environmentalist and still hate spotted owls."
Hlinko, himself no stranger to working for a political lightning rod, calls political messaging "non-combat combat," and cites McIntyre's work on environmental issues as an example of his effectiveness in speaking frankly with clients.
"Very often, we'll find that politics makes for strange bedfellows," he notes. "[McIntyre] is very good with speaking to environmentalists on the conservative side of the aisle - or as he would say, conservationists. Little things like that make a difference in [messaging for] both sides and not just speaking to one-third, one-third, and one-third, but 100%. Ironically, being a conservative, he is very good at bringing out the inconvenient truth to a client."
Despite their political differences, McIntyre is of a like mind when comparing debate to combat, paraphrasing boxing champion Mike Tyson to describe his modus operandi: "messaging with murderous intent" to create an effective, yet interesting, argument.
"When introducing yourself to potential friends or foes as the chief [NRA] spokesman, I guarantee it is the best icebreaker in the world," says McIntyre, who worked for the organization from 1990 until 1994. "You tell someone you are the chief spokesperson for the NRA and you are going to have a conversation whether you like it or not."
EVP, Grassroots Enterprises
Reporter/columnist, Times Community Newspapers
Chief natl. spokesman, NRA