Corporate communicators can find inspiration in political arena

Tis the season where politics and politicians are scrutinized like foreign animals newly donated to the local zoo.

Tis the season where politics and politicians are scrutinized like foreign animals newly donated to the local zoo. Words, motives, and companions are dissected, making every action a cause for cheer or dismay. It's similar to the treatment of corporations or otherwise well-known organizations.

There is an advantage for communicators who advise senior executives and study politics. Trends affecting business often first show up in politics. It's a natural bellwether, as politics has always been for upstarts. For those in marketing communications, the first bumper sticker of note was "I like Ike," for President Dwight Eisenhower when he ran for office.

More recently, just in the past two decades, the political power of women has grown. Remember the 1992 "soccer mom" phenomenon? There's broader engagement of multicultural groups and a blending of their views. The cross-over appeal of Sen. Barack Obama is an example. Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign perfected collecting money online. MoveOn.org and DailyKos.com activated new segments of society. This year saw the first YouTube presidential debate. The online world is so pervasive that it's been dubbed a "webocracy," on par with democracy and bureaucracy.

These all seem to be simple examples. Everyone can reflect on how women, black people, and the Web shape business models and communications practices. Yet, it goes deeper. Behaviors are shifting among the people that entities want to reach.

The point is for communicators to look at politics to help identify what's next for business. Watergate was the turning point for societal distrust in government and large institutions. Morality and value voting preceded stakeholder activism and demand for greater CSR.

And when identifying trends, the first things to look for often are anomalies. Action takes place underground long before the breakthrough. The status quo carries great weight. It takes a lot of pushing - and pushing back - to make it give way.

It still might be too soon in this political season to make absolute pronouncements, but there are some interesting signs to watch.

First, places that didn't matter now do. The politerati is paying attention to primaries in DC, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Second, personalization is not just something entities do for stakeholders, it's something they do for themselves. Third, there is a shrinking advantage to newness. In addition to quicker copy-catting, Obama gained ground early with hi-tech tactics and new voters.

Top communicators look for inspiration in some crazy places. It keeps us fresh and different from the pack. And what's more crazy than politics?

Lisa Davis is VP of corporate communications at AstraZeneca. Each month, she looks at a different aspect of counseling senior management from an in-house viewpoint. If you have any comments or suggestions, e-mail her at lisa.davis@prweek.com.

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