Mark McKinnon knows a thing or two about developing communications strategy. He’s done it for George Bush, John McCain and the late Texas Governor Ann Richards, among others across the political spectrum.
McKinnon, a political and media advisor who has worked on both Democrat and Republican messages, says he has become more conservative as he has gotten older. “Like a lot of folks, I was more liberal in my younger days.”
He offered a few pointers to agricultural organizations during his keynote address to the USA Rice Outlook conference recently in San Antonio.
“You have a fabulous story to tell,” McKinnon said, “and it is critical to tell it. But it has never been more challenging than in today’s environment to tell your story.”
He said a candidate’s or an organization’s message “is never static. It changes; what works this year will not work next year. That’s never been more true than it was in the last campaign. Trump changed the rules.”
Still, he says, a few best practices remain in place. “Some seem obvious. The most important is to have a clear, compelling rationale. You’d think that’s obvious, but it’s often a factor in a failure to communicate.”
He said Trump’s “Make America Great Again” resonated with his target audience. Hillary Clinton never expressed a compelling rationale for her candidacy, he said.
He says it’s important “to tell a story. That’s true for a [political] campaign and it’s true for organizations. Put a message together that has relevance.”
Simplicity also helps. He explained that a goldfish, according to scientific research, has an attention span of seven seconds. “Humans have an attention span of eight seconds. Relevance to the audience is important.”
McKinnon says the value of authenticity has changed over time. In politics, messages don’t necessarily have to be true. “People don’t want perfection,” he said, which was a critical aspect of Donald Trump’s appeal as a candidate.
“But we do need to find ways to communicate that are believable.”
McKinnon said rice has a credible story to communicate. “We grow rice to feed the world. That’s a great story; it’s authentic. Farmers are authentic.”
He urged agricultural organizations, in their outreach efforts to “just be yourselves. We are tempted sometimes to dress things up too much. A lot of organizations try to dress it up and make their message too fancy.”
Agriculture has the authenticity to tell a simple, believable story, he said. “Just be yourself.”