Friday, October 19, 2018

Communications Watch: Burt Macklin and the BoE Race

Of course, I am referring to Danny Mackey.  But for some reason, whenever I hear his name, I have to shift off the default setting of envisioning Andy Dwyer sporting an FBI jacket and Special Agent shades.

By all accounts, he (Mackey) is running a relatively serious campaign for the Board of Education.  It is important to note, from the outset, that I am not voting for him. 

His campaign is worth writing about insofar as it offers a communications case study in doubling-down on what is perceived to be a core attribute.  In this circumstance – his youth.

That is a risky strategy for three main reasons: 

1)    It is inward-looking.  I know he is capable of discussing broader systemic issues that actual voters are actually concerned about. But I think too often his policy-focused narrative can be muffled by banging on about his youth.  Average voters, especially for down-ballot races, usually focus on (at most) one or two characteristics and/or policy stances for each candidate.  This can also occur with top-of-the-ticket campaigns.  In 1997, if you knew that Jim Gilmore was running for Governor of Virginia, you probably were aware that he favored “no car taxes.”  If you were particularly attentive, you might have known that he also had a proposal to hire more teachers.  And that, for many VA voters that cycle, was about it.  You don’t get many chances to make an impression, and you want your most prominent messaging to be compelling & memorable.  If one were to develop a word cloud featuring the words and phrases voters most often associate with Mackey, “youth” would certainly be up there…and I don’t know how many voters are going to cast their ballots based on that attribute alone.        
2)    Mackey’s narrative, in some ways, draws him perilously close to the positioning occupied by the Student Board Member.  Some voters might not be swayed by a candidate who is conveying the idea that he can best connect with students and their needs given that he, himself, was fairly recently a student of the same school system.  Isn’t the Student Board Member ideally situated to be such an advocate? Some voters might think a student advocacy-centric sounding narrative might be too limited in scope for a non-Student Board Member, given the range of issues facing public schools.
3)    It invites the specter of having to explain away the “inexperience” argument.  In the unfair-but-this-is-the-world-in-which-we-live-category, by talking about his relative youth, some voters will wonder (sometimes aloud, sometimes not), is he ready for the responsibility of holding such an office? Does he have the life experience to prepare him adequately for the role?  Given the importance of our public schools within our community, voters may have reservations about young candidates, no matter how knowledgeable they may be.  Granted, we have had “elder statespersons” on the Board who have been solid, mediocrities, and abysmal failures.  That said, his lack of gray may be an obstacle for some voters…particularly with a midterm electorate, which tends to skew somewhat older compared to presidential election cycles.
There is little doubt that Mackey sees this messaging as a primary point of differentiation from the other candidates.  And he has tried to make it more resonant/relatable by talking about “approachable leadership.”  For what it’s worth, I don’t believe that his youth inherently makes him more “approachable” than other Board members/candidates. 

And I do wonder what some students would think about his political affiliation.  Yes, some folks would probably deem it a plus, but others would not.  If it was widely known, would that impact his “approachability” among some?  Perhaps.  His pics alongside Hogan and Kittleman may lead some to question his education priorities.

Bottom line:  I think Mackey’s messaging obscures his advocacy background. This is one of the primary reasons why I don’t see him finishing in the Final Four in 2018. 

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

1 comment:

  1. Started receiving robocalls from Mackey today.