Whose Brand Story Is Being Told? The Candidates Lose Control

If you don’t control the story, someone else will. That’s one of the lessons of the current bloodbath that is the 2012 Republican Presidential primary campaign season.

One might think that with the most successfully branded political campaign in history only four years old, candidates and advisors would take a look at their notes from back then. There’s no doubt that candidate Mitt Romney has a number of PR problems (including trying to inspire crowd enthusiasm while covered in glitter and not being concerned about the poor), but one is a constant throughout.

Mr. Romney’s primary story about Mitt has distilled down to: “I was a successful businessman; I will put America back to work.” The story is not detailed enough to be compellingly authentic, not personal enough to inspire devotion, and does not ring true enough to conjure trust. In addition, he has failed to build a personal narrative around is shift from practical moderate Republican to the conservative right, which is obvious to nearly every observer. Instead, he tries to argue that he’s different but the same.

This week, the Washington Post alluded to Mr. Romney’s struggles to find the right tone for his fledgling campaign. Opinion Writer E.J. Dionne Jr. outlined how the candidate left Florida a winner and a loser: “That Romney is still standing is something of an achievement. Judged by the standards of a political consulting textbook, his campaign executed a strategy in Florida that it had no choice but to pursue. Yet Romney won votes, not affection, a nod rather than an embrace.”

Surprisingly, Romney has not turned his energy inward for reflection on how to better craft his story. On the contrary, according to another Washington Post article by Julie Hirschfeld Davis, he has turned his energy outward. Many in the press corps have noticed a “feistier delivery and more aggressive style” from the candidate, with speculation that a new debate coach may be part of the change.

Another missing part of the Romney narrative is why he wants to be President of these United States. The lack of an emotional, heart-felt reason may be part of the reason voters find him a trifle cold and distant. Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman made a similar mistake in her bid to become Governor of California. The voters couldn’t tell why she wanted the job. Nor could one GOP strategist who watched the race closely.

Of course, Romney’s biggest PR issue may be the question of whether his business success at Bain Capital in Massachusetts fashions him as a job creator or a “vulture capitalist”—a topic the Christian Science Monitor digs deeply into. When the idea of simple head count of created vs. eliminated is floated, he has already lost control of his story, again.