Top Political Spokesperson on Using Narrative-Based Messaging in Any Organization
Zach Friend is a policy, public affairs and communications expert who has worked for Barack Obama and John Kerry’s presidential campaigns, the White House Council of Economic Advisers, the U.S. Senate, Congressman Sam Farr and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
With Obama for America ’08, Zach was a press secretary and spokesman in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, handling planning, writing and media relations in the Greater Philadelphia market. For appearances and interviews, he staffed and briefed Barack Obama and Joe Biden, and as Deputy National Director of Special Projects for the DNC, Zach helped lead the field staff for John Kerry’s campaign. Additionally, he designed message and campaign strategy for Native American outreach in battleground states. Before the Kerry campaign, Zach served with Senator Tom Daschle, Congressman Farr and the Council of Economic Advisers as a staffer, researcher and writer. He has been quoted by MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, ABC, CBS, National Public Radio, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, Politico, the Huffington Post and others.
In his book, “On Message: How a Compelling Narrative Will Make Your Organization Succeed” he provides a guide to why a cohesive narrative is the best way to get your point across and a blueprint for how to craft your own message, regardless of your industry or setting. Using examples from the worlds of politics, advertising and industry, Friend outlines concrete methods for creating and delivering a message, marketing campaign or branding strategy that resonates with listeners and that gets results.
What was the concept behind writing “On Message”?
The main purpose of “On Message” was to provide a simple and accessible guide – a how-to – that could be marked up and referenced time and time again. It was written in a way where each chapter was it’s own section so you could pick it up, read a chapter to learn the concepts, and set it down to apply the concepts. I wanted to write a business book that was more universal than just business and wasn’t a technical or academic piece but a real world book.
What is one thing that aspiring writers should know but probably don’t?
The content you write on the laptop in your study or living room can end up influencing opinion, shaping arguments and inspiring. In other words, what you write matters and can have an impact.
Why narrative-based messaging? How and why does it work?
When I was working on political campaigns I noticed that it wasn’t always the better-financed campaign or perceived “front runner” that was ultimately successful. It was the candidate that was able to connect their story (their narrative) in a more emotionally compelling way. This is the basis of all messaging and framing – the narrative. Without an underpinning of emotional connection no amount of branding, messaging or framing will stick. Once that story is developed the messaging and framing flow from that. Just think about candidates you voted for. What was their story? What message did they convey? Now think of those that you didn’t – can you remember what their main theme was?
What piece of advice would you give to businesses or political candidates to establish their own narrative?
Many think you can spin your way into a story or aim to win a media cycle. This approach has no lasting impact or resonance. Narratives are emotionally compelling, simple and true. This might sound simple but think about how often businesses or candidates try to think of something that doesn’t emotionally connect. Or maybe they only highlight a partial truth to, in their minds, make themselves look better. The modern age of information sharing ensures that these half-truths will be exposed and if you don’t emotionally connect the possibility of having a lasting narrative is close to nil. Think of a movie you watched that has stayed with you or a non-profit you felt compelled to give to. The emotional connection is high.
Praise for “On Message: How a Compelling Narrative Will Make Your Organization Succeed”
“The great film producer Richard Zanuck once said, ‘The most important thing is the story… It’s the story people remember, the reason they love a movie. Zach Friend, something of a genius, figured out that’s not just true about our favorite movies. It’s true about everything anyone wants to tell you… Zach was right.” – Chris Matthews, Host of MSNBC’s Hardball
“Whether calling upon his own experience with the 2008 Barack Obama campaign or mining wonderful nuggets of dialogue from quirky movies… Zach Friend has written an entertaining and insightful guide to crafting messages in business, life, and politics… I have to admit that in the real world his advice is dead-on.” – Walter Shapiro, political columnist, former Washington Bureau Chief for Salon.com
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