Timing, Tempo and Tone

The following is an excerpt from Leading the Revolution, a new book by Indiana Republican Party Chairman and former Mitch Daniels for Governor campaign manager Eric Holcomb on the lessons elected officials, business executives, community leaders and civic minded individuals can learn from Indiana’s governor.

Most experienced campaigners will tell you the three most important things in a campaign are money, money and money. It is true, money is essential, but there are other not so obvious factors that equally affect the outcome, such as the three T???s of any successful message: timing, tempo and tone. Successful campaigns usually have a subtle synergy among these three elements.

Timing is not only important in taking the temperature or the mood of the electorate; it is also critical to know when to roll out policy items for public consumption. Each year is different from both the previous year and the one to follow. First, survey and know the market landscape; then determine if your project or ideas have a resonating appeal. It has been said, ???Pioneers take the arrows, settlers take the land,??? so avoid premature ideas and pursue only those you are passionate about and willing to work hard for to make a reality.

Second, because people are busy or preoccupied, they have a limited capacity to process complex messages from candidates and elected officials alike. By promising too much, you may be left with a confused electorate and accomplish nothing. Exaggerating or promising the moon makes your to-do list less credible, not more. How your proposals make a taxpayer???s life easier will determine what they listen to and like. Time and issue management go hand-in-glove.

If your timing is right, carpe diem. You are never too old or too young if your ideas gain traction. Once you have determined you are moving forward, it is time to think about the tempo of your policy rollouts. The tempo is a layer many miss, but every good public relations campaign has a rhythm or cadence to it. Voters will begin to view the campaign as a source of thoughtful ideas. Remember, it is better to be known as a well of information rather than of a fountain that sprays at the start but fizzles out over time.

Whether they realize it or not, taxpayers expect the public servant they hire to keep up a certain pace but not to exceed their ability to follow. If you get too far ahead of them, they may begin to think you are working for yourself, not them. Likewise, if you have a reputation for being a hard charger with an appetite for reform and change, be consistent and do not let up after victories or defeats. Otherwise, folks will start to believe you represent only a slogan.

Lastly, woven into the fabric with timing and tempo is the overall tone your customers will hear and recognize as your brand. It is not just what you say; it is how you say it. If you campaign that you will be tough on crime, you had better reduce crime and be able to prove it. If you campaign that you will create a better economic development environment, you had better be able to point to job creation. Campaign on hope and change and the next time around voters should be even more hopeful because of the change you brought about.

Whether you are a challenger or an incumbent, your tone and purpose should be the same. As a challenger, it is not only permissible to compare your approach to solving problems and expectations to your opponent???s; it is necessary. You must say what you mean and mean what you say.  The key is to realize that going negative on your opponent is not the same as comparing your records. Make the most of your opportunities to showcase your plan.

I have heard many people claim Governor Mitch Daniels never went negative because he did not have to. True, but that is because he seized the high ground and rejected any temptation to lurch toward gutter politics. It takes discipline not to, but no one has to go negative. A simple rule is to manage and promote the substance of your ideas and the politics will take care of themselves. Do not rely on DC talking points to persuade the American public, but instead spend time figuring how to share the compelling reasons why your ideas will carry the day.

Upon first taking office, Mitch set out to get Indiana???s fiscal house in order, pay off all debts to local governments and schools, honestly balance the budget, and improve state government services. Once the government???s foundation is on solid fiscal ground, then you can look to responsible tax cuts and other government reforms that grow the economy and enhance revenue.

On his second day, Governor Daniels issued an executive order ending the collective bargaining for state government unions that previous administrations had put in place. The practice of collective bargaining in a practical sense prevented state agencies from making big changes, but many joked that state employees could not even move tables and chairs around in the government center cafeteria without first asking the union???s permission.

Today, state government can be much more nimble and cost-effective.  Indiana now pays state employees based on performance, has improved state service and operates at the same staffing level as it did in 1975, before collective bargaining.  While other states were ballooning their government rolls, Indiana had the ability to right-size.

Elections make a difference, and the threat of a government union revolution proved to be a paper tiger. Over ninety percent of former state employee union dues-paying members voluntarily opted out of the government union umbrella. Even hard hat union members did not get over-exercised about the new arrangement for state employees. Some Union members just wanted a voice, not a big brother.

As it turned out, former members wanted to give themselves a pay raise more than they wanted to pay their union bosses. Safety conditions were handled by OSHA, and the federal government appeared to provide all the discrimination protection an offended employee may seek. After Mitch ended collective bargaining, fewer than fifty people showed up at Indiana AFSCME rallies whereas in 1995, union members filled the state house second floor.

Taxpayers want their government to work and produce results. What they do not expect is gridlock. Any time you can bridge the party divide and bring competitors together, the public overwhelmingly approves.

Leading the Revolution: Lessons from the Mitch Daniels Era is available at