Sometimes a story is so strong that all you need to do is tell it and get out of the way. Improving on a good thing can be tricky, because there’s always the risk of over-embellishing. Too much PR or packaging can overwhelm an emotional punch.
“Doors,” the remarkable ad by Texas congressional candidate MJ Hegar, manages to take a great story and improve it in the telling. Chances are you’ve already seen it, but if not, check it out. The three-minute digital video has racked up over four million views since its release last month. Only half those views are from YouTube; the other nearly two million are from the earned media and interviews it has generated in the mainstream press. I hate the word “viral” but it was coined for occasions like this.
“Doors” works on many levels. It grabs you at the start because of Hegar’s battlefield story. Against an opening guitar chord that sounds a lot like “Gimme Shelter,” we meet Hegar as a search-and-rescue pilot in Afghanistan. Her experience is a true hero’s journey; Hegar’s medevac helicopter was shot down by the Taliban and in the moments before crashing, wounded in her rifle arm, she managed to return fire from the moving copter. She received the Distinguished Flying Cross and a Purple Heart for her bravery.
Top that if you can. But the brilliance of the narrative is that the military conflict echoes past struggles — like that of Hegar’s mom with her abusive husband. It’s also the preamble to her second great battle – to overturn the ban on women serving in ground combat. Hegar sued the Pentagon to change the policy, and in 2012, she won.
The theme ties Hegar’s personal narrative to the vision she shares for the community. She’s a true underdog, a Democratic woman working to unseat a 15–year incumbent in a deep-red Texas district. She aims not just to open doors for herself – but to kick them down for others. (No glass-ceiling mentions necessary.)
Best of all, the ad isn’t divisive or even particularly partisan. In our ultra-tribal environment, it’s a pretty universal message. Hegar smartly doesn’t challenge the incumbent on issues or policy beyond the combat ban. Instead, she accuses him of not listening, of literally closing the door on constituents who aren’t donors. The imagery is perfect.
That’s where the real power of “Doors” invites you in. For a story to hit home, we need to identify with the experience depicted. And who hasn’t felt ignored by someone in authority? Most can’t relate to Hegar’s combat experience, but we’ve all feared the door closing on us. Women especially know how it feels to be discounted by someone who thinks you’re just not important enough to be worth their time.
Part returning hero, part David vs Goliath, and one hundred percent authentic, “Doors” has clearly opened up a long-shot congressional race. And for PR people and other professional communicators, it’s a reminder that in the right hands, a great story can always get better.