What Can Libraries Learn from Using a Message Box like Kellyanne Conway?

This post is (hopefully) the first in a series on tools from political campaigns that can be used to arm librarians in the face of growing opposition during the Trump era where anti-tax and anti-government sentiments have a much stronger voice than ever before.

There is one tool that is essential to a community organizer in order to develop a strong message for a political campaign and to understand how to respond to opposition. It’s extremely important to use this tool to make sure that the communication is planned and delivered correctly because a political campaign can easily die if it delivers the wrong message or stutters in the face of opposition. This tool is the Tully Message box and it is one of the most highly used message development tools for political operatives. You could see it in action the recent Presidential Election campaign where Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, was deftly able to navigate opposition messaging to return to the narrative of the Trump Campaign. She was often able to dictate the message she wanted during interviews with the media and her secret to performing so well in the face of criticism was that she used a tool like a message box to understand her message, her opposition’s message, and how to use it to get back to her own message.

Even though I’m no fan of her politics, her agenda, or her candidate, and I wish she used her powers for good, there is a lot to learn about how well she navigated these interviews.

One way of making sure that a political campaigner like Kellyanne Conway is able to take and keep control of the conversation is through a Tully Message Box. The Tully Message Box was named after Democratic strategist Paul Tully. He used the box to look at the elements of a campaign message that will most significantly help the communication side of any campaign. Once that framework is understood, then it becomes much easier to craft an effective way of keeping control and responding to any message in the campaign. A Tully Message Box is broken down into four areas-

  • What do we say about ourselves?
  • What do we say about the other side?
  • What does the other side say about us?
  • What does the other side say about themselves?
What do we say about ourselves?

 

 

 

What does the other side say about us?

 

What do we say about the other side?

 

 

 

What does the other side say about themselves?

 

What do we say about ourselves?

This is the area of the box that will be easiest to fill out early in the campaign. This is the message that a campaign team is hoping to put before the voters. It is the result of the beliefs and values of the campaign and how they are expressed. In essence it would be what the campaign would sound like if it were the only ones allowed to speak. These are the campaigns core values and its beliefs about the issue. It often helps to start this box by answering the questions; Why now? Why is this issue important?

What do we say about the other side?

It would be nice if politics only encompassed support and opposition for issues logically presented to the electorate and the electorate voting based on those simple facts. However, voters often vote based on emotional values such as fear, anger, etc… That’s why there are often so many negative campaigns. The negative campaign is often defined in this message box square. While a campaign can easy to slip into name-calling and negativity, this area is often best served by contrasting the campaign’s belief or value system against the other side rather than speaking about them in terms of emotional responses. Also, while there is a need to speak about your own policies there is a need to speak about those of your opponent and that is framed here.

What does the other side say about us?

The comments and accusations that any political candidate faces from an opponent are important to record throughout a campaign. Any activist may have to face these opposition messages on a regular basis and understand how to respond to them. Getting these down in print will help any campaigner understand what might be said and devise a way of countering it. The more prepared the campaign is for the messages of its opponent the easier it will be to steer the narrative back to the campaigns message. This is where Kellyanne Conway excelled. There is no doubt that she spent countless hours understanding this square of the message box.

What does the other side say about themselves?

The last box is one that can help with reflection. An opponent of any cause will have a set of values, beliefs and polices that they presumably believe in. If an activist is able to analyze these and understand them it gives them the best chance of anticipating their attacks. If they know how they differentiate themselves from the opposition then they will be able to formulate a response based on the flaws that are seen in the opposition’s argument.

Putting it into use

It often helps to put a message box into use for one opposition message at a time. Remember that when using a message box, the goal is to stay on the campaign’s side (the left side of this box) and move the messaging away from the opposition’s message (the right side). This allows a campaign to understand each opposition message individually and to create messages that undermine the opposition before those messages are used by the opposition. It also helps to memorize each counter message so that if an activist is attacked with an opposition message, they can counter with a well-memorized counter message. Here is an example;

What do we say about ourselves?

Libraries provide a wide range of services that can’t be found anywhere else in the community or online.*

 

 

What does the other side say about us?

Libraries are obsolete because we have Google.

 

What do we say about the other side?

They are disconnected from many in the community who don’t have access to the internet.

 

 

 

What does the other side say about themselves?

I don’t use libraries because I have Google.

Once these four areas are defined for each opposition message in a campaign then it becomes easy for a library to use these counter messages whenever necessary. The message box allows you to plan ahead and keep control of the narrative. They say that forewarned is forearmed and a Tully Message Box allows a campaigner to fully understand the direction that any conversation can go in. This gives an activist the power to anticipate what might happen next and have a set of strategies to steer the narrative in their own direction.

*to build a really strong message against opposition using the 27-9-3 method, check out EveryLibrary’s opposition training guide at action.everylibrary.org.

If you are interested in having EveryLibrary conduct a training to build political skills for librarians or speaking at your conference or staff development day you can get more information here. Or for information about my training, workshops and consulting, please view my speaking page.

Further Reading about the Tully Message Box
Progressive Majority
The Campaign Workshop
Wellstone

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