Obama, Romney and New Arts Audiences

A lot of arts folks believe that the language we speak to traditional audiences and the language we speak to new audiences are mutually exclusive, and that they can’t be used at the same time. “If we speak to younger, more culturally diverse audiences,” so the argument goes, “we risk ignoring, alienating or offending the core audience that’s so important to us.”

I appreciate where that thinking comes from (“that’s the way we’ve always done it”) but I beg to differ. And to prove my point, I’d like to offer up two examples that arts pros can observe over the next eight months to learn how to speak more persuasively to undecided audiences.

The next president of the United States will be either Barack Obama or his Republican rival, who at this point appears to be Mitt Romney. But neither of these gentlemen will win the election by speaking exclusively to his base. Each will have to find a way to speak persuasively to his core supporters and, at the same time, to the broadest possible range of undecided, independent voters who, the pundits tell us, are going to determine the outcome of this election.

Can they do it? Obama did it in 2008. He spoke almost exclusively to undecided outsiders but never once alienated his inner circle of die-hard Democratic fans. He coalesced an incredibly broad range of old and new supporters while McCain doubled down on his base hoping to draw more of the GOP conservative faithful out to the polls. If Obama had thought for a minute that he couldn’t speak persuasively to more than one audience at a time, McCain could very well be president right now.

Can Romney do it? Well, that’s going to be a lot of fun to watch. The GOP is divided at the moment so if Romney wins the nomination, he’s going to have to win over the ultra-conservative side of his base and then craft a message that appeals both to them and to the more moderate independents and fence sitters. In the long run, Romney’s job could be a little harder than Obama’s because his base and his new audiences have so little in common.

And that, my friends, is the crux of the matter for both politicians and arts pros. The key to speaking persuasively to old and new audiences is to know what those audiences want, to look for common threads that unite their desires and to craft messages that appeal to universal yearnings. Obama’s 2008 message of “hope” and “change” was no mistake. It was the result of in-depth audience analysis and a meticulous strategic process of choosing words and images that would resonate with the broadest possible range of potential voters.

If your latest campaign message wasn’t the result of in-depth audience analysis and a meticulous strategic process of choosing words and images that would resonate with the broadest possible range of potential ticket buyers, take a look at what Obama and Romney do over the next few months.

It could make all the difference in the world.

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