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Political headliners address PMA crowds

by Tim Linden | October 06, 2009
ANAHEIM, CA -- Two well-known politicos from opposite presidential camps in 2008 addressed the Produce Marketing Association's Fresh Summit International Convention & Exposition Oct. 2-5, but politics wasn't top of mind.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was the keynote speaker at the opening general session Oct. 2, while President Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, did the keynote honors at the Oct. 4 general session.

Ms. Rice gave a non-partisan speech stressing the need for American capitalism and democracy to be spread worldwide as she said that it shines above all other economic and political systems. She also made a plea for the immigrants who are striving to get to America. She said that whether they crawl across the border looking for menial labor jobs or they descend to launch high-tech firms, those wanting to come to America to work hard should be welcomed.

Although she was given the opportunity during a question-and-answer session to take shots at the current administration, she declined to do so. Ms. Rice said that she did not appreciate people questioning her decisions as secretary of state when she knew they were uninformed, and she would refrain from criticizing the current people in charge. In fact, she said that President Obama has some "very smart people in his administration" who are capable of making the tough decisions of the day.

When asked about her political future, Ms. Rice, who is currently a professor of political science at Stanford University, said that she enjoys her life as an educator and does not miss her time in Washington. "I like being able to read the paper and not have to do anything about what they are writing about," she said.

Mr. Plouffe talked a bit about campaign strategy but mostly in the context of how digital marketing can work for any company or organization. He said that the grassroots strategy to connect to the supporters of Mr. Obama can be followed by any company wanting to connect to its own devotees, or "product sermonizers" as he called them. He believes that the best way to influence people and get them to buy a product -- whether it be a presidential candidate or an apple -- is through word of mouth.

The Obama campaign, which created a list of 13 million supporters, had 6 million volunteers and 4 million people who donated money. The campaign used this resource over and over again to dig deep and spread the candidate's message. He said that companies and organizations should also build lists and enlist those people to help.

While the Obama campaign used the e-mail system as its main conduit of communication, Mr. Plouffe said that the technological world is changing quickly and that by the next campaign, new technology will emerge that will drive future campaigns.

He expects that mobile devices rather than computers will be the main method of communications. In fact, he said that some countries around the world have only 1-5 percent penetration with computers but they have 100 percent penetration with cell phones.

Mr. Plouffe also talked about target audiences. Surprisingly, he said that the Obama campaign discovered that the people spending the most time on computers were seniors. He indicated that digital marketing to this group is a worthwhile endeavor. At the other end of the spectrum are young people who spend many hours on the computer. But while seniors tend to do a lot of research and look for things themselves, the younger set wants information delivered to them quickly, and it has to have substance and be authentic.

When delivering campaign messages, Mr. Plouffe said that the Obama group stumbled when it tried to make the presentation too professional and polished. Supporters, who were dominated by the young, reacted much better and quicker to less-fancy pleas.

He added that the use of video is very important to the young. They react much more to visuals than they do to words, and he suggested that digital marketers include video whenever they can when selling their message.

Mr. Plouffe also advised that a firm's web site should be interactive and dynamic, saying that if people come back and find the same information presented in the same way, they will tune out in very short order.