Clear Comm Consulting

The power of a simple message: Nine words that stopped a train

Aug 1, 2004

Riding on the John Kerry campaign train earlier this month I learned a great lesson. Occasionally I’m still asked to put on my reporter’s hat, and that’s how I found myself on the “Believe in America” express, riding across New Mexico and Arizona.

The town of Winslow, Arizona was scheduled as a “slow down” location for the campaign … the train was to slow enough for the candidate to wave to the “crowd” and then move along to the next stop. That was the plan … until the nine words appeared.

As we rolled into Winslow a bigger than expected crowd was there … hundreds of people had come out. I leaned out of the side of the train and quickly saw an example of some clever planning. On white beds sheets people in the crowd had spray painted two messages. On the first sheet it said, “Give us 10 minutes.” On the second sheet it said, “We’ll give you 8 years.” I felt the train squeak to a halt. The Kerry supporters in Winslow got what they wanted by understanding the power of a simple message. Kerry spent about 10 minutes thanking the crowd and giving a shortened version of his stump speech … far more than anyone in Winslow expected … and they did it for pennies.

Now the flip side of that same coin.

The multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry spends millions on message issues every year. Let’s take a look at how the spokespersons for two firms did in communicating their message in a recent issue of Time magazine.

The topic was regulation of promotional practices by the pharmaceutical companies and new scrutiny by the Federal government. Investigations and fines have been big news within that world over the last few years. Here’s the quote from one of the firms: “(The Company) strives to maintain the highest standards in marketing our medicines in full compliance with FDA regulations.”

Hopefully someone was fired for that quote. They may as well as have said, “We know what the rules are we walk right up to that line as often as possible.” Why even mention “FDA regulations?” It sounds like a guilty person trying to explain away their actions while their lawyer looks directly over their shoulder.

By contrast, here is a quote from another Pharma firm. “(The Company’s) approach is proactive. We’ve got good products and want to promote them in the appropriate ways.” Same basic message but a whole lot better.

If you feel good about your products SAY IT! It’s the simplest message a company can provide and one that every company spokesperson should be saying every day … maybe even spray it on a few bed sheets! hen I convince him he’s right in a different way.”

ClearComm Note: Watch for our client, Cold Stone Creamery CEO Doug Doucey, on CNNfn’s “Your Money” Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 5pm Eastern.

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: [email protected].

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

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