Former Bush Advisor Says Trusted PAC Managers Make it Personal

Traveling with President George W. Bush on Marine One three years ago, then-White House Communications Director Kevin Sullivan felt confident about the coming national media event, which called for Bush to give remarks at a military base and meet troops in a mess hall. But he hadn’t expected the president to lean forward and ask: “Is this thing indoors or outside?”

“He saw the look on my face… and he knew I wasn’t sure,” Sullivan shared with those attending the Public Affairs Council’s National PAC Conference this week in Miami, Fla. “Just when I thought I really had the material mastered, I had left off the most obvious detail.”

Sullivan could have fudged, but he had already learned the importance of this lesson: “If you don’t know, don’t guess.”

Speaking on the second of the three-day conference, Sullivan, founder of Kevin Sullivan Communications Inc., described the sometimes tough things he learned about being a trusted advisor to the most powerful man in the free world. Among them: “Being a trusted advisor is really about being helpful to the person you’re working for. ”

Trust, he advised, grows over time and is both rational and emotional.

As an example, he pointed to the Texaco ad campaign that used a black-and-white picture of a man smiling and pointing to the company logo on his uniform. “They made it about the man with the star, not the company,” Sullivan said. “We don’t trust our institutions; it’s really about a personal relationship.” (Note sourcing below)

To create that personal connection in PAC work, Sullivan suggested, it’s important to show people how political involvement affects them. For instance, he said, if a corporation is pushing legislation to curb intellectual property theft, “make it about… how intellectual property is being pirated by [people] in Russia or China… about the millions of jobs in our country that rely on intellectual property.”

“People don’t believe they can have an impact,” he said. “Show how they can. “Paint a picture… build a drama, be a storyteller… it’s the most effective way to communicate. People remember stories.”

(Note:  Story of Texaco ad campaign was sourced in remarks to “The Trusted Advisor,” by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green & Robert M. Galford (Touchstone Books, 2000)