I recently returned from a weeklong trip to Iowa where I celebrated with every other political enthusiast the return of the Iowa Caucus. It’s a phenomenon that occurs every four years and brings presidents, ambassadors, senators, and future leaders of our country to a state that’s primarily known for corn and Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams.
Back in November, I explained what happened in that last 50-60-day window in Iowa as the state, campaigns, operatives, and news outlets prepared for the Iowa Caucus. But has anyone said why Iowa? To most, it’s a state that doesn’t have much to offer, but like so many things in life – and in the communications realm, what often seems unassuming can be the most daunting.
That’s why I believe the Iowa Caucus highlights the need for preparedness in communications.
Let’s be honest: Iowa seems to be filled with more corn and pigs than people. However, it’s Iowa’s unassuming nature that reveals a more intricate system that often trips up even the best politicians, breaking their campaign before it even began.
While Iowa may not be racially diverse, it is diverse in many other ways. The state is home to a number of different industries outside of agriculture, including food security, manufacturing, renewable energy, and insurance. These industries can be identified in the state geographically. The state, while spread out, is also diverse from a religious standpoint with the state split with a more predominant Catholic voting base living on the eastern side of the state, while protestants and evangelicals live on the western side, towards Nebraska. More so, it’s home to a voting base that is diverse in its education with big 10 schools calling the state home, and issues of immigration and border security are also important due to its proximity to factory and farm work – which rely on seasonal workers.
Home of the first in the nation caucus since the 1960s, Iowa has also developed a reputation for being aggressive in its vetting of these candidates – which means they must be well-versed in issues as it relates to the state and offer solutions to a number of issues ranging from fixing the immigration crisis to water rights, eminent domain laws and USDA regulations, to China trade manipulation and the future of renewables in our country. Due to the intricacies of the issues at hand, the broad scope they can range in, and an electorate that is well-knowledgeable, it can be a minefield for presidential candidates – with one wrong answer tanking a candidate.
Moreso, the state’s spread out and its highly engaged voting bloc requires candidates to engage heavily in retail politics. While it means there’s less of a reliance on advertising (which can be expensive), it does require an extensive ground team that can organize events, town halls, meet and greets, and more in towns like Atlantic which boast a few thousand in population to Cedar Rapids. Furthermore, these voters expect candidates to come back multiple times, make their case, while voters don’t actually make a decision until Caucus Day.
The diversity and time commitment a state like Iowa requires of candidates can be daunting, and puts them through a rigorous test to see if they can last the distance – it’s also Iowa’s best case for why it remains first in the nation.
In the same breath, Iowa’s rigorous test of candidates is a reminder that every organization that relies on communication must be prepared to engage in a proactive movement if they hope to sell their message effectively. Not only must you be prepared from a financial standpoint, but your company must be prepared to answer questions on the finite details of your plan, anticipate pushback or concerns from your target audience, and be prepared to engage with these audiences on multiple fronts, over multiple interactions, to gain their attention and support.
So whether your company is ready to launch a product or initiative or a candidate running for office, take a lesson or two from the presidential candidates in Iowa. Those who succeed with a ticket out of the state to New Hampshire are a prime example of the work, dedication, skill, and preparedness needed to effectively run any campaign.