Famed turnaround artist Mitt Romney has successfully turned around his campaign once before, during the Republican primary, but right now, the stakes are much higher and the campaign is climbing back from a fall far much lower. To capitalize on last week's debate performance success,, what Romney needs is clear-eyed, smooth-talking, PowerPoint-clicking outside consultants much like the very ones he once worked with at Bain & Company so many years ago. Bain hasn't lent its expertise to the Romney campaign. Yet. But we studied the kinds of reports Bain creates for several institutions and think we have a good grasp of how they'd mold corporate jargon and stock photos to fit the Romney situation.
The scope of the Operational Excellence diagnostic focuses primarily on improving the operations of the Romney campaign. While debate innovations have increased Romney's standing nationally, they have not yet resulted in corresponding gains in critical swing states like Ohio.
The analysis in this report is based on best available data, but there are limitations due to the difficulty of assembling high-quality data from the Romney campaign's existing systems. This report contains decisionable data (not accounting precision); further refinements will be made as needed.
Mitt Romney is one of the nation's major political figures — and historically one of the least understood. For many years observers and even many participants in the political process have considered the Romney camp to be complex and difficult to comprehend, even impenetrable. This report is the first step in the process to shed light on the billion-dollar campaign apparatus, which spans the globe and involves a wide spectrum of players, from the Olympics to the financial sector.
The Romney fundraising operation kicked off with a show of overwhelming force:
- Romney raised $10 million in a single day in March 2011. Super PAC Restore Our Future proved adept at raising funds as well.
- In June and July, Romney raised more money per month than Obama, who would be expected to retain a significant fundraising advantage as the sitting president.
- Romney is on track to raise $900 million, significantly above his $800 million goal.
However, the Obama fundraising operation has outpaced expectations also, and outpaced them at a faster pace than the Romney operation. Obama raised $181 million in September -- on top of $766 million raised through August. The challenge of the opposition's strength is compounded by some cash flow challenges:
Outflows: Financial disclosure forms indicate some troubling patters in campaign outlays:
- Romney paid staffers more than $200,000 in bonuses in August.
- Obama and Romney spent nearly the same on payroll -- $4.37 million and $4.04 million, respectively -- but Obama has more than twice the employees.
Most troubling, the outlays for spending on advertising -- the reason so much money is required in the first place -- show some troubling patterns. Because Romney is buying ads at the last minute, he is paying vastly more for them, Politico's Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns and Emily Schultheis report. Five examples of Romney paying a premium for last-minute buying can be seen in the chart below:
In late August, a Pew Research Center survey shows voters more and more associate Romney with words like "honest," "leadership," and "businessman." They less and less associate him with the word "Mormon." The Pew word cloud shows gains in positive attributes since the Romney campaign began working to reach general election voters:
An opportunity arose for Romney to demonstrate his leadership skills -- the attacks on American embassies in the Middle East -- but the leadership message was not effectively communicated to the public. A new marketing push targeted to maximize perceived sobriety, cool-headedness, and clear-eyedness was prevented from achieving full market penetration due to the unforeseen release of video footage of the candidate analyzing his potential maximum vote share to high-priority campaign investors.
- A Pew poll found only 26 perent of those who followed the news of the Libya attacks approved of Romney's response, which was to condemn the Obama administration for apologizing for America.
- 48 percent disapproved.
- Meanwhile, 45 percent approved of Obama's response, and 36 percent disapproved.
43 percent of registered voters viewed Romney less favorably after the 47 percent video, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.
59 percent thought the candidate's description of that market segment -- that they don't pay income taxes, so they think they're victims and will vote for Obama to get more money -- was unfair.
36 percent of voters said the 47 percent take made them less likely to vote for Romney, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll.
The opposing campaign and its allies continue to air ads based on these incidents.
The presidential debate success October 3 allowed a new push to redefine the candidate in terms of leadership and foresight. A post-debate poll from Pew Research Center reflects political consumers were not yet rigid in their candidate brand choices. Romney's brand is now more identified with ideas and leadership. Obama demonstrates a softness in his brand identity as one who understands the average American.
Further, the Romney campaign has experienced frustration that Obama's poll numbers did not slow as the rate of jobs growth slowed. However, the flip side appears to be true as well. A better-than-expected jobs report did not blunt Romney's surging strength in the polls.
Reallocate human resources: Only one person has been buying the ads for Romney, Politico reports. Republican strategist Dave Carney indicated that wasn't enough: "Buying the TV and media today is one of the most (complex) aspects of the campaign in terms of having dollars spent effectively and getting the eyeballs you want to watch. Cable and radio and online — that’s a massive undertaking. It takes experience and a lot of technology and a lot of people," he said. "You can’t be doing it off the back of an envelope."
Streamline organization: The Romney campaign is spending almost $32 million on consulting, Marketplace reports. That's six times what Obama's spending. A natural solution that has presented itself must be exploited to the maximal potential. Tagg Romney, Romney's eldest son, is now a "key political adviser" for the campaign, and the one Romney trusts most. Given the long-term benefits of having a father as president, Tagg's salary could be negotiated down to a reasonable price that reflects his importance as well as the campaign's financial constraints, thus reducing the need for expensive consultants.
Tailor messaging: Target voters so they understand Romney really is like them.
Reduce off-brand associations. Sever perceived ties to products previously rejected by the political market. The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol explains that polls show voters till blame George W. Bush, not Obama, for the financial crisis. Romney and Bush share some superficial ties, such as both being members of the Republican Party and hiring some of the same advisers. Romney should employ a marketing push that would, in Kristol's words, "emphasize Romney's future-oriented economic agenda, so it would be harder to claim Romney would simply mean a return to Bush..."
Maximize debate coverage. Media exposure during the presidential debates is critical to reestablish leadership credentials in an uncertain and changing world. Traditionally, challengers to incumbent presidents have taken a lead by mid-September. A strategy customized for modern electoral conditions will chart a new course for challengers to incumbent presidents.
Owning Obama in the debates will bring electoral benefits that are twofold: 1) It will show swing voters Romney is more than up to the job and 2) It will excite the Republican base, which has been longing to see Obama schooled in a debate since 2008. This innovation has produced some modest success in the past, as John Kerry's skillful debate performances in 2004 shrunk Bush's lead by 3.4 percentage points.
Romney is already on this course following the October 3 debate. Following the above recommended solutions will allow him to continue this momentum.
Image via Dmitriy Shironosov via Shutterstock.