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Audience Advocacy: Karl Rove

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Karl Rove, who served as Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush from 2000-2007 and Deputy Chief of Staff from 2004-2007, was widely known as "The Architect," because he was considered to be the power behind the throne of the 43rd president. Mr. Rove has just released his autobiography, Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight, which contains political advice analogous to presentations.

The advice was called out in a review of the book in the New York Times written by Mark Halperin. As the editor at large and senior political analyst for Time magazine as well as the co-author, with John Heilemann, of the current bestseller, Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, Mr. Halperin understands the essentials of communication. He wrote:

Students of practical politics should grab a highlighter and some Post-it notes when reading Chapter 4, entitled "What Is a Rovian Campaign?" Even if one disagrees with Rove's politics (especially if one disagrees with Rove's politics), there are some valuable nuggets about how to run winning campaigns. The most vital rule, Rove says, is often violated: "A campaign must first be centered on big ideas that reflect the candidate's philosophy and views and that are perceived by voters as important and relevant."

Replace the word "voters" with the word "audience" and you have sage advice for presentations. This is a further extension of audience advocacy, the concept that asks presenters to advocate the audience's needs in equal measure to their own, as you read in the prior blog on the subject.

In Mr. Rove's book, he also took the opportunity--as he often does in his other writing and public appearances--to attack Barack Obama. There in no love lost by the president for one of his most constant critics but, in politics, all is fair game. Mr. Obama heeded Mr. Rove's advice about the importance of being "centered" on voters.

During a recent interview in the New York Times about his low job approval ratings, Mr. Obama admitted, "What I have not done as well as I would have liked to is to consistently communicate to the general public why we're making some of the decisions."

Turning to the same "Rovian" nugget that Mr. Halperin highlighted, the president added, "One of the things we've been trying to do is to say, boy, let's get out of here more often," Mr. Obama said. "Just talk to folks and listen to folks so that people get a better sense--not just that we're making smart decisions, but that we're also hearing them and their voices and what they're going through on a day-to-day basis."

Apparently, Mr. Obama was also heeding Michael Corleone's advice in The Godfather, Part II, when he said, "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer."

Coda: As this blog series was taking shape, I worked with a Clean Tech company (still in stealth mode, and therefore anonymous) to develop its financing pitch, and introduced the audience advocacy concept to them. At that point, the CFO smiled and said, "Sounds like the advice I gave to my 13-year old son who was about to go on his first date. He asked me what he should talk about. I replied, 'Make it all about her.'"