’This trip (to the UK) has really been good for me - I’ve gone from
being apprehensive and sceptical about this venture to being
enthusiastic.’ It’s a frank admission from James Carville, the ’ragin’
Cajun’ who helped put Bill Clinton in the White House.
The ’venture ’Carville is referring to is the setting up of a strategic
consultancy, GGC-NOP, with fellow US political consultant Stan Greenberg
and Labour pollster Philip Gould. NOP, the research group which already
handles opinion research for the Labour Party, will hold the final 25
per cent of the newly formed consultancy.
There are some in the consultancy world who will treat this latest
venture with scepticism, and others who will greet it as a revolutionary
Carville and Greenberg, who are both currently based in the US, spent
several days with Gould last month shmoozing the grandees of the UK
corporate world, touting for business for their fledgling
’What brings us together is an understanding of change,’ says
’Communicating how to manage change successfully is a central part of
what we do.’
Gould agrees: ’There’s a different mood out there and if business
doesn’t realise that, it will find itself in trouble in exactly the same
way that political parties find themselves in trouble when they don’t
respond to change.’
’We are dealing with a serious deterioration in institutional trust,’
Carville says, by way of example. ’It used to be that if you were a
corporation or an institution and you said something, people believed
it. Now you’re met with more scepticism than trust. If people detect
arrogance they put up barriers.’
No one is going to deny that business has a valuable stake in
understanding the state of political and cultural thinking, nor that
this thinking has shifted in recent years.
’We’ve been involved in the biggest political transformation of the
post-World War II period,’ Greenberg insists. ’People experienced a
period of a breakdown of certainties in the 1980s - in the economic
realm, in the political realm, in the welfare state.
’The reason Clinton and Blair won was because they showed that they
understood the right balance of accepting change and creating new areas
As far as the UK is concerned Gould argues that the country is becoming
increasingly assertive and populist. The political and cultural changes
of the 1990s have created an environment in which big companies no
longer automatically know the rules of the game.
’You can’t presume that the old rules are going to produce the same, or
necessarily good, results,’ says Greenberg. ’You need a strategy, a way
of changing the probabilities. You need to be able to intervene and
affect outcomes in a new environment.’
The central tenet behind the GGC-NOP consultancy is that the involvement
all three men have had in politics gives them an invaluable insight into
how the Labour and Democratic parties modernised to cope with cultural
changes. Now that the political parties Gould, Greenberg and Carville
have championed have achieved electoral victory, the time is right to
apply the same modernisation techniques to the corporate world. Using
their research and polling techniques to understand target stakeholders,
the consultancy will devise ’break-through’ strategies.
’The business people we’ve been talking to want to make sense of this
change,’ says Gould. ’They almost need a translator - they just don’t
know the language or the jargon.’
Gould recounts a conversation he had with one leading corporate figure
during a dinner. ’He said: ’I now feel that every one of my customers is
a voter. What they think about the politics of the world and what they
think about my business are intertwined and locked together. It’s just
not possible to separate them anymore.’’
The blurring of the boundaries between the political and corporate world
should mean that Greenberg, Gould and Carville’s skills are
In an article on reputation management (PR Week, 11 April 1997) Mark
Goyder, director of the Centre for Tomorrow’s Company, identified
’clarity of purpose, enduring values and a clear personality’ as key to
managing reputation - a statement which could equally be applied to the
Whether or not the three are offering anything new in terms of strategic
input is debatable. Although their political credentials are dazzling
and previous corporate experience solid, it could be dangerous to rely
on the ’big name’ factor. It is possible that potential clients could be
discouraged from associating with such high profile spin doctors - a
label they will find hard to escape. Carville, however, is confident of
their future success.
’The distinct advantage that we have is that we have been doing this for
most of our adult lives,’ says Carville. ’There may be someone who can
offer a similar service, but not a similar background. We haven’t just
got together and said: ’gee, there’s a need for a strategic division,
let’s go out and make one’. Between the three of us there is a wealth of
experience - not just in understanding what to communicate, but how to
As for potential clients - Greenberg says that in his recent discussions
with corporate figures in the UK, concern about Europe is high. ’Many
major business sectors have an enormous interest in building receptivity
to Britain going into a single currency,’ he says.
Greenberg believes another area for potential clients could be those
industries in Britain which have fallen in public esteem.
’There’s a serious interest in trying to address the question of
industries with an image problem. It’s not just the practice of a
particular company, but the overall lack of confidence in an industry
which is adversely affecting the futures of those industries as a whole
and, consequently, the individual companies,’ he explains.
The enthusiasm of Gould, Greenberg and Carville to unleash their
combined ideas and practices into the corporate world is clear. Carville
also admits to a more personal reason for his involvement in the
project: ’All of my adult life has revolved around politics. The
circuits get burnt out, you know. It’s the same people I keep fighting.
Everything just has a real sameness to it.’
All three have ’been there, done that and written the book in politics’,
and now there is a sense that they are looking for the next big
The proof of the pudding will be whether companies with the GGC-NOP
stamp will see their reputations enhanced and their performance
One of America’s best known political consultants, Carville came to the
fore during the 1992 presidential campaign. He ran Clinton’s Little Rock
’War Room’ and is credited with the all-encompassing campaign phrase
’it’s the economy, stupid’. He was nominated as campaign manager of the
year for his work.
Affectionately known as the ’ragin’ Cajun’, he is a lifelong political
campaigner who took his first canvassing job while still at high
Carville is married to Mary Matalin, his opposite number on George
Bush’s re-election campaign and the couple wrote a book about their
experience - ’All’s Fair: Love, War and Running for President’, which
became a best-seller.
A key figure in the modernisation of the Labour Party and its election
campaign, Gould was responsible for polling at Millbank, telling the
politicians what voters were concerned about.
His use of focus groups - informal discussions with small groups of
voters - has been credited with helping to steer Labour towards victory.
He first met Carville and Greenberg while visiting the Clinton campaign
in 1992 and returned to the UK to write a paper which compared the
success of Clinton’s campaign to the Labour Party’s 1992 defeat. He has
worked on Daniel Ortega’s election campaign in Nicaragua, for Michael
Manley in Jamaica and for Express Newspapers.
Like Gould, Greenberg is a skilled and influential pollster and was one
of the architects of the modernisation of the Democratic Party in the
Greenberg has been credited with identifying the swing of voters of
McComb county as being the key to defeating the Republicans in the 1992
presidential campaign - the Basildon of American politics.
With Clinton’s victory behind him, Greenberg went on to work with Nelson
Mandela in South Africa’s first post-apartheid elections.
Greenberg has also been involved at a corporate level with the
multinationals Boeing, United Healthcare and life science company