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Sarah Reloaded: Palin’s PR Offensive

“She’s not retreating, she’s reloading.” That’s how Sarah Palin, quoting her father, describes her re-emergence on the scene at the end of her memoir, Going Rogue: An American Life.

It’s also a pretty fair description of the preparation for the PR offensive mounted to promote the book. Palin’s come out with guns blazing. Some reviewers have dismissed the book as little more than a rehash of her life story, with a generous helping of score-settling. But, that’s not the point. What’s far more interesting is how Palin has packaged herself, and her message, for what some see as a warm-up for the 2012 election. Though I’m not at all convinced she’s gearing up to run for President, it’s clear that Going Rogue is the launching pad for the “new and improved” Sarah Palin brand.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m not a fan of Palin’s politics. But, my first two PR jobs were in book publishing, and I can appreciate the brand platform that a book provides. Though the marketing campaign kicked off today with a hugely hyped interview with Oprah, and a taped sit-down with Barbara Walters, the team has taken pains to point out that it’s not a typical promotional campaign. Instead of the customary major market media or satellite tour, the woman who made “maverick” a catch word is following a different playbook. In a move dubbed the “Wal-Mart” strategy, the Palin PR team has rejected the big (liberal?) markets in favor of what she calls “the real America,” starting with Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Ring a bell? Michigan was an early battleground state for Palin. The battle was between her and the McCain campaign, which opted to skip it in favor of bigger and more certain electoral victories. Clearly, Palin wants to get in her shots at the McCain team. But, what better way to court those “real Americans”  – and snub the bicoastal media elites – than to kick off her appearances in, um, flyover country? They’ll travel by bus, of course. Call it the Heartland Maverick-mobile Marketing Tour.

I’m not sure the numbers are there in the electoral sense, but it’s shrewd positioning. What’s more, team Palin is working furiously to both leverage the mainstream press, and disintermediate it at the same time. Though they’ve granted those national TV interviews, there’s also a clear plan to go directly to her fans through use of Google keyword ads and social media. She uses her Facebook page to lambast the fact-checking efforts of Associated Press, accusing the AP of “making things up.” It’s a nice populist move.

But, Palin’s non-candidate status has enabled a softer and more contemporary brand of populism, tinged with post-feminist self-reliance. Unhampered by the need to cram for foreign policy pop quizzes, she’s free to focus for maximum resonance. Her “blame-the-other-guys” talking points are well-crafted to stretch her appeal beyond the core conservative base. They paint her campaign experience as that of a regular gal, frustrated and constrained by the out-of-touch McCain staff and jaded Washington consultants who tried – and failed – to package her like a commodity. It’s a neat packaging trick of her own. Choose the losing team as your opponent (in addition to the liberal press, of course), cast yourself as the innocent rebel, and you can come out as a winner. More importantly, it positions the Palin brand as authentic, her original core attribute.

Palin is accused by her opponents of substituting the personal for the political. But, when it comes to the new and improved Sarah Palin, there’s nothing but the personal. Which is why I  think she’s really aiming to be a kind of right-of-center Oprah, not the future Ms. President. But, we’ll see. One thing seems clear. Palin’s only just begun her brand offensive. You betcha.

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