BY: B. Keith Plunkett
By now you’ve likely heard about Democrat Representative Steve Holland’s bill to change the name of the Gulf of Mexico to the “Gulf of America”. Most everybody keeping up with Mississippi politics knew from the first announcement that this was another one of Holland’s goofs. However, if you’ve read the news coverage from across the country, you’ve discovered many across the country didn’t get the joke.
Followers of Mississippi politics know Holland’s flamboyance lacks boundaries. Walking the halls of the state capitol, one is likely to hear him holding court with anyone willing to listen–his loud self-promotions echoing through the capitol halls.
As a communications strategist, I advise people to play to their strengths, and flamboyance and self-promotion are two things Holland has in abundance. I recall during Governor Haley Barbour’s State of the State address in 2010, Holland waving a cane with a little flag high in the air when he heard something he liked. Mere mortals may have applauded their approval, but not Steve Holland.
Then there was this well publicized self aggrandizing moment last year:
Flash and attention grabbing has it’s place if used sparingly.
I dislike the use of such gimmicks. However, in communication as in everything, there are no absolutes. Sometimes the way to get your message heard is to drop a bomb. But, the explosion should be followed by a plan to shift the conversation and use the attention positively. If not it’s nothing more than fluff, at best. At it’s worst, it could come across as silly as the rodeo clowns who are entertaining the kids at the Dixie National this week. They all dress the part. But it’s the guys close to the action that do the hard work of keeping the bulls from killing someone. The other guys are just entertainment.
Holland says he filed the bill to bring attention to Republicans “anti-immigration” stance. But, I’ve yet to hear him or anyone give any detailed example. If this was the intended message to be delivered, Holland missed the mark. In fact, when interviewed about the bill, he further confused the message by talking about Republican efforts to drug test beneficiaries of government assistance. The use of his earned media to trot out every political accusation he could come up with did little to help downplay his ever-increasing reputation as a publicity hawking clown, and it certainly did nothing to forward what he claimed was his initial argument.
No matter how much you may disagree with Holland’s politics or his methods, he muffed a great opportunity to communicate a positive message about the Democrat Party’s belief system, and promote his solution. Instead, he showed he has no solutions, only showmanship.
Compare Holland’s performance to that of Mississippi Democrat Party Executive Director Rickey Cole’s Q&A in the Clarion Ledger on Sunday. While steering clear of specific legislation, Cole did a masterful job of describing a Democrat philosophy of inclusion, community, responsibility, and cooperation. He communicated a positive message that stayed away from any mention of the opposition. Instead, Cole focused his message on ideas of promoting diversity through “golden rule” politics. While short on specifics, the message accomplished what all good political or policy interviews should accomplish. It addressed a broader, positive theme. Cole did this, and did it well.
Holland, on the other hand, wasted the opportunity he created for himself by being ill-prepared. He offered no specifics on the immigration issue that he himself raised. He reinvigorated the opposition by providing a platform and by giving them credit for addressing the issue. He further confused and diluted his message by watering it down with the side issue of drug testing. And, he offered no positive ideal or steps for influencers to take to help move the conversation forward.
Holland broke all the rules to put himself above his party and his colleagues, and showed the taxpayers he was willing to do it all at state expense. While he was at it, he also managed to give his state a black-eye with a nationally embarrassing story.
Holland loves the spotlight. But in the end, all he managed to do was to confirm he is irrelevant.
Loud and obnoxious? Yes. But still, irrelevant.
Leadership is about the common good.
I’m not in the business of advising Democrats. But, if I were, I would put together a communications plan to repair the damage. In my estimation, it would be a good move for Cole to publicly admonish Holland. It allows Cole, and other Democrats the opportunity to fill the Holland message void with a positive communication of inclusion and community. They’ll win some support from the public by creating a narrative of cooperation and for looking at the big picture.
Will Democrats do it?
Which is why the Democrat Party in Mississippi is in shambles, and why showboating noisemakers like Holland will continue to get all the attention. No one appears to be putting a positive messaging effort together at the party. Left leaning non-profits are filling the void to some degree, but their work is issue specific. The lack of organized effort has also given rise to groups like the Mississippi Democrat Trust.
As a whole, the Democrat Party is short on developing a broad message and theme. As I’ve highlighted before, numbers indicate the prime demographic for Democrats is ripe for the picking, and ready to receive talking points and communication. But, without putting a communications plan to work, there is nothing of substance for these influencers to believe. Without belief there can be no passion, and without passion there is no movement.
About Keith: Keith Plunkett began blogging in 2006 during his time as a small town newspaper publisher, and following two years of traditional print media experience. Soon after, he began writing for and advising political candidates and small businesses on best practices for integrating traditional and internet communications strategies. He has worked with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, governmental agencies and non-profits. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations. Contact him by going to HorizonMediaMarketing.com or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett