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Sarah Reloaded: Palin's PR Offensive

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“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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  1. Beryl Wing

    From the moment Sarah Palin burst on the national political scene I said – much to the chagrin of my liberal friends – we’d better watch her. She’s dangerous for the left. Disastrous if she got power, but dangerous for us nonetheless.

    My friends would say, “She’s not qualified.” By this they meant she can’t do the job. My thought: If she was able to run and win a campaign for governor – for that matter, if she was able to negotiate the beauty pageant scene (the organizational and management skills necessary to run both a household and a beauty pageant campaign are vastly underrated!) – she would be able to be VP. She might bumble. She might do it badly. But she could/would do it. She is qualified enough to really mess us up.

    What my friends were really saying, I think, is that they did not like her politics. On that I agree 1000%. There is almost nothing Sarah Palin stands for that I agree with or think would be good for the country. But just because she has opposing political views does not mean she could not do the job, does not mean she’s not qualified. The fact that she COULD do the job AND has opposing views is part of the danger.

    But Sarah Palin is most dangerous because she has charisma. She has a magnetism that cannot be learned, taught or bottled. (More’s the pity because if it could be, I would be first in line – for some myself and for progressives everywhere!)

    My biases on the table, I think this book tour is brilliant. I don’t know what she will do with her notoriety: become a talk show host, run for president, write more books and get more famous. And rich. But this book and the tour will keep her on our minds, TV sets and pda’s for a few more months.

    More than her plans for the future, however, I am looking forward with relish to who she will find is “doing her wrong” next. Katie Couric probably won’t get another interview, so she’s out. Palin is no longer best buds with the McCain campaign, so they’re probably out. So who will it be? And it will be someone. Because, in Palin world, someone is always doing her wrong.

    Finally, I must weigh in on the Newsweek cover. As much as her public humiliation is delicious to progressives, Newsweek was wrong. She was posing for Runner’s World (as I understand it) and she was more than appropriately dressed for Runner’s World. For Newsweek to use that photo out of context is, however scrumptious, patently wrong. I do not like it when Fox and others on the right wing twist the words and images of progressives. And it is also not right when conservatives are shown out and mocked of context. Shame on you, Newsweek. Any PR professional with standards knows not to do that. Even the mothers and grandmothers at the Grand Rapids mall book signing know the concept of context. It was a low blow. Don’t take another one. If we’re lucky – and have patience – she’ll shoot herself in the foot. Especially given her fondness for guns. Just be there with a camera to get the shot.

  2. Michele

    Excellent post, Dorothy. Media Matters said the other day that “Going Rogue” is being sold below cost in many places and for less than $5.00 in one case, which is likely distorting sales. (http://mediamatters.org/research/200911160066)

    It saddens me that so many people cheer on the media whiners — Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs. It’s all “poor me” all the time. Yuck.

  3. Dorothy Crenshaw

    Thanks, Michele. I watched the Oprah segment, and, if you hadn’t formed an opinion about her, you might have found her quite charming. She hasn’t talked politics or policy…it’s really about her personal story. Which is why I think she’s gearing up to be a media figure, not the first woman president…but who knows! I admit I’ll be watching the Walters and Gibson interviews, and everything that comes after! I’m also pondering whether Palin, and the attention and controversy she generates, is good for women seeking office…or even good for the image of women in general. (Might make a good blog post on http://www.nywici.org)

  4. Dorothy Crenshaw

    I don’t entirely agree about the Newsweek photo; she did pose for it (albeit under very different circumstances.) But I agree about the charisma. I also think she’s very hungry for attention, so I get mixed signals when she complains about poor or unfair media treatment. She keeps putting herself out there! (But, if I were her publicist I’d tell her to stop talking about Levi Johnston…she should take the high road on that one.)
    Thanks, Beryl.

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