The Selling of a President: Two Presentation Tips

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The day after the election, The New York Times featured a very interesting article which highlighted two of the many presentation strategies used by Mr. Obama’s campaign, both of which are worth remembering when making your sales pitches.

In May 2012, six months before the election took place, Jim Messine, the manager of Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign, proposed a “bet the farm” strategy to Mr. Obama. Using a PowerPoint presentation, he proposed that the campaign, immediately, begin spending heavily on ads blasting away at Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The goal was to shape voters’ impressions before Mr. Romney had the money to do it for himself. The plan defied conventional wisdom, which said a campaign should start slowly with a positive message and save money (often for the negative ads) for the stretch run.

The risk: it could leave the president exposed; “if it doesn’t work, we’re not going to have enough money to go have a second theory in the fall,” said Mr. Messina. The good news is that it worked: within weeks the Obama campaign was blasting away in a late-spring offensive, forcing Mr. Romney to respond to the negative charges about his business record and personal finances rather than focus on presenting the president’s weaknesses related to jobs and the economy. In other words, Mr. Romney was on the defensive instead of on the offensive when it came to his public records.

When Presentation Excellence coaches/trains executives to present, we teach them to:

  • Focus on the goal; the only way to get a bulls-eye when achieving a goal is to focus on it as the only target.
  • State your case (i.e., USP – Unique Sales Proposition or DA- Distinctive Advantage) concisely and succinctly. Remember, less is more when it comes to effectiveness.
  • When you’re in a competitive sales situation, counterpunch your competitor before he gets to make his/her presentation, In other words, state your strength (or a competitor’s weakness if it’s being discussed) in such a way that when your competitor speaks, what he thinks is his strength, is being interpreted as a weakness, and he has to invest time trying to change your initial viewpoint (which often isn’t easy to do!).


In this case of selling a president, the approach Mr. Messina proposed was a form of counterpunching. The goal was to define Mr. Romney before even he had a chance to really do it for the general election. The strategy created FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about how well he could relate to the average American – using Mr. Romney’s alleged strength (e.g., business experience and creating personal wealth), against himself. So, when Mr. Romney was ready to present his case, he was saddled with a negative impression that he had to first overcome. It turned the election from a referendum on the president almost into a referendum on Mr. Romney. For some voters, he never successfully overcame the counterpunch. For others, he may have done so, but lost time and resources.

Another example of this took place with Brilliant Image, the predecessor of our current company. Early on, we adopted a 24/7 service system, in which we always were available. We went out of our way to explain to prospects that this meant at 2 AM even on Sunday, someone (who we actually named) was ready to start work immediately. Why? Because we knew that our much bigger competitor was available 24/7 – but required the prospect to call the answer service first to have the person on call arrive an hour later. Given the choice between people ready to start the work on premises versus people who had to be called to come to the office, our service was highly advantageous.

Finally, from a strategic standpoint, this approach made a lot of sense: it caught Mr. Romney at his most vulnerable time. The Republican nominee had been damaged by the bruising primary season. He limped out of it in mid-April battered and short on money to defend himself.

Third Party Endorsements 
A second presentation weapon that Mr. Obama used effectively was to use the most popular politician available to support his cause among potential supporters: former President Bill Clinton. His eloquent deconstruction of Republican tax and spending policies proved a highlight of the Democratic convention, even overshadowing Mr. Obama’s own speech a night later. The morning after the last presidential debate, Mr. Messina had breakfast with the former president at the Hyatt Hotel in Chicago and got his commitment to campaign every day for Mr. Obama in the final 10 days before the election. He became a tireless advocate.

Similarly, include testimonials from strategic, high quality, third party endorsers for your products and services. If you’re pitching a large commercial construction contract, try to get testimonials from even larger clients who’ve benefited from similar jobs. If you’re pitching a healthcare and understand what is their greatest concern (e.g., cost over time; integration with legacy systems, etc.) and get testimonials, if possible, from similar type clients who applaud the way your company solved the same kinds of challenges for them.