Perception is Reality: A Vision Statement
In 2012 I ran as the Libertarian Party candidate for Indiana’s 2nd District U.S. Congressional seat. 9, 326 votes later I have learned some valuable lessons that can be used in the future should I run again. However, more important than lessons that I can use for myself are those lessons that could be of value to our party as a whole. I would like to share one of those lessons with you here, but even more so than a lesson, consider it food for thought.
Since the election I have wrapped up my work with the at-risk youth in our community and chosen a bit of a different career path – that of radio marketing. I now work at 95.3MNC, a News / Talk radio station in Northwest Indiana. The station’s format leans conservative – offering its listeners familiar names such as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity. We also have two local hosts – one of them, Casey Hendrickson will be important to my opinions as I lay them out below.
In preparation for my new position I read a book titled Successful Local Broadcast Sales, by Paul Weyland. One of the phrases that he emphasized in the book, and something that stood out to me personally, is the idea that “Perception is Reality.”
As Libertarians we struggle with that, don’t we? Mainstream politicians, political figures and pundits, as well as providers of public education and state universities, mold the perceptions of American society and leave libertarians scratching their heads, wondering why no matter how long we fight this uphill battle, the hill seems to steepen.
And it’s all about perception. Libertarians often make the mistake of being more concerned with the way things are than the way they seem. But we can’t ignore the power of perception and expect to be successful. If we want to accelerate growth – which is something that our new Chair Dan Drexler emphasized at our recent State Convention, the Libertarian Party has to take control of public perception with whatever resources we have available.
Here is an example:
Some of you may have read the excerpt in the State Convention brochure that highlighted a major success from St. Joseph County. The county party, in an effort to reshape the perception of the party, pitched in and purchased a radio sponsorship with my station. The sponsorship was essentially for a private (and local) kids’ charity. In doing so the party positioned itself as charitable, education-friendly, and community focused.
For any liberal effort that could ever been made to minimize the Libertarian Party – writing us off as some reclusive and greedy group of capitalists who don’t want to do the right thing by investing in our communities, St. Joseph County Libertarians decided to make a statement. What was that statement? Well, it could be several things. It could be that we’re willing to put our money where our mouth is. It could also provide a broader narrative about the libertarian conscience. However it could be interpreted, I am certain of one thing: It affects perception. And perception is reality.
Still uncomfortable with that statement? Consider it from a candidate’s perspective. If you’re running for office as a Libertarian, there’s a good chance (in my opinion) that you’re right on at least most of the issues (Biased? Yes.). But if being right got Libertarians elected, Libertarians would get elected. So why don’t we? Part of it is perception.
Why have so many political clichés been birthed over the years? Why do politicians kiss babies? Why do they always suggest that getting business done means “rolling up their sleeves?” Why are conservatives successful at marketing overseas interventions as responsible and patriotic while liberals successfully market taxation as paying your fair share and doing what is right by those less fortunate? Because it works. Perception.
Empathy, and the ability of an individual to relate to people who are frustrated and struggling, is what makes successful candidates…for better or worse…whether they’re right or wrong.
Going back to St. Joseph County, the main event occurred in the last five minutes of their radio sponsorship when 95.3MNC host Casey Hendrickson issued a challenge to the other parties.
“I just thought of something. We talk about politics a lot on my show, right Mark? I have one political party in this town. Only one who cares about changing a generation and that is the St. Joseph County Libertarian Party. They’re the only ones that have become a Five Star Life Champion for the entire hour because they’re changing a generation. Where are the Republicans, the Democrats, the Greens and everybody else? I don’t care if it’s the Communists that call up…Isn’t that interesting though? The Libertarian Party stepped up and the Republicans and Democrats haven’t. Isn’t that interesting?”
Nobody else called, and the St. Joseph County Libertarian Party won the day – putting their money to good use, making an investment in their community, and earning some positive promotion.
If perception is reality – imagine how that moment could have changed one person’s reality. What kinds of emotions does a statement like that cause you to feel? For the casual listener that kind of statement can move mountains. And we need more of that.
We don’t have the resources that the other parties have in terms of Mass Media, but it doesn’t matter. We have to utilize it regardless. Not only that, but we have to take it much further than Facebook debates and clever memes. Let’s look to St. Joseph County’s victory as an example.
Yes, St. Joseph County is my county. Yes I work in radio. But at the risk of coming across as biased, I also care greatly about how our party is marketed.
We all know the challenges that are ahead of us. We know the misconceptions that are out there regarding the LP. But what will be more effective at the end of the day? Spending hours arguing the issues with strangers via social media? Or using the media the right way to reshape the perceptions of our communities?
I say the latter.
Last week, the same radio host (Casey Hendrickson) who had given the Libertarian Party such a great moment weeks back, accidently did the opposite. A frustrated Republican had called into his show stating that he and his family had been members of the GOP as long as he could remember. He then said something like, “We’re ready to leave the GOP, but it just doesn’t feel like there’s anywhere else for us to go.” Casey Hendrickson then said something like, “Well if you’re GOP the Green Party certainly wouldn’t be the right fit. And the LP would be great but they’ve got to stop running nut-jobs.” For what it’s worth Casey did acknowledge how much better Gary Johnson had been that previous LP candidates.
Now, I personally don’t think we ran “nut-jobs,” at least in Indiana in 2012. But it doesn’t matter what I think. Rather, imagine the perception of the caller, and also the perceptions of every listener – loyal to the views of that particular host, and how it affected their thoughts regarding the LP.
Casey is a friend of mine and we talked later about that segment. Casey apologized because in making that very broad (but not always incorrect) statement, he had failed to recognize the efforts that he had seen coming out of our county party – and also the efforts of some LPIN candidates. He issued a public clarification on his Facebook page which gave kudos to some of our more positive efforts which deserved credit.
But he didn’t have to do that. Casey doesn’t claim to be a Libertarian and has no allegiance to our party. He did it because he’s a good guy. But for every Casey Hendrickson there are four guys (or gals) who don’t acknowledge the positive, more pragmatic efforts of our party. So how do we compete with that?
I say to the best of our abilities, take our local media back. Libertarians have often complained that we’re ignored by the media. However, nobody ignores money. As advertisers we can shape our message, determine how we want the public to perceive us, and put it out there. For anything negative that is said we can have something positive to combat it.
Does it cost? Yes. But is it worth the investment? I believe that it is. Until we have the power to mold the perceptions of the public beyond what the other guys tell them about us, it will always be easy for people to stay misinformed about who we are.
Post convention I would like to see more affiliates taking it upon themselves to utilize various marketing mediums in their counties – especially in non-election years where money isn’t being put into candidates. Fundraise, then take your money and put it into marketing.
Locally we can brand the LP anyway we want. As advertisers we won’t be ignored (because we’re paying customers) and marketing on conservative leaning stations like mine (or even liberal leaning stations if they are nearby) shows that we’re not against working with the other guys to meet our needs (which I think can have some subliminal implications about positive forms of compromise as well).
It can serve as a recruiting tool as well, and we’ve already voiced an interest in growing our numbers at a quicker pace. I envision the Libertarian Party of Indiana making the entire party better. Controlling the way we are perceived by individuals outside of the party could be (in my opinion), one of the best ways to approach recruitment, and one of the best ways to change our reality – and our future!