Regardless of how you feel about the whole Don Imus controversy, there are a few important lessons every candidate could learn from what happened. Not surprisingly, both lessons deal with how you communicate to voters.
Imus Lesson #1: Candidates shouldn't moonlight as comedians.
For some reason, just about every candidate feels an obligation to start their speeches with a joke - or, perhaps more accurately, an attempted joke. It's a dangerous, dangerous habit for two reasons.
First, in today's ultra-sensitive world every joke is going to offend someone, especially when that someone is looking for reasons to be offended.
Think about the Imus situation. It wasn't the Rutgers basketball team that stirred everything up. It was Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton - two political operatives with their own personal political agendas. I'm sure the Rutgers team was, rightfully, offended and this story probably would have gotten some coverage without Jackson and Sharpton. I don't believe, however, it would have garnered as much attention had Jackson and Sharpton not been stirring the pot.
You know who your opponent is going to be on the ballot. You never know who you opponents are going to be during the campaign, though. This is especially important for incumbents because they have a lot more enemies than challengers. Either way, you shouldn't even think about opening this door for your opponents to put you on the defensive over an "offensive" joke.
The second reason it's dangerous to tell jokes in your campaign speeches is that you're not as funny as you think you are. Telling a joke that falls flat to start your speech is only marginally better than telling a joke that offends people.
I like a good joke as much as the next guy. And I hate telling candidates that they have to curtail their sense of humor during a campaign. But the reality is, I wouldn't be doing my job if didn't warn the candidates I work for about the dangers of telling jokes on the campaign trail. It's just too dangerous politically in today's world.
Still convinced you have to tell a joke? I understand. Some candidates I work for don't care about the risks and say they are going to tell jokes anyway. If you're one of those *#%&*@#$& candidates, I'd encourage you to limit yourself to two kinds of jokes: 1) jokes about you and 2) jokes about politicians.
About the author
--Mark Montini is widely recognized as one of America’s leading political communication consultants and trainers.
Known for his “outside-the-box” approach, Mark has worked with CEO’s, Members of Congress, Members of Parliament and leaders from four continents.
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