What Obama can learn from Ross Perot, Cecil Underwood and Coalition Marketing

Two weeks ago while on vacation in Washington, DC, Patty and I found D’Acqua, a great seafood restaurant on yelp and left two happy kids with room service and movies at our hotel.  We were seated a few tables away from David Axelrod, President Obama’s senior political advisor.  I was about to ask our waiter for a piece of paper to write him a note with some ideas on how they could more effectively promote healthcare reform legislation, when Patty let me know that wasn’t her idea of a romantic dinner together.

I just finished reading The Battle for America 2008, a great book about the 2008 election, on my Kindle.  It is clear from the book that Barack Obama learned a lot about the need to prioritize healthcare reform from the late Senator Kennedy.  Here are a few thoughts on lessons he could learn and apply from others leaders:

From Ross Perot and Cecil Underwood – Use the data and a few high impact charts. 

Every time President Obama speaks on health care, I expect to see a few high impact charts that layout the major problems that need to be addressed.  And every time I am disappointed. The data is clear and easy to access.  A few examples:  Medicare’s administrative costs are about  1% of total costs, while private insurance administrative costs are around 15%; the average American family’s health care insurance premiums paid have doubled since 2001  from $6000 per year to $12,000 a year; US health care cost per capita is over $4000 higher than the next highest country.  Obama could make this data extremely relevant to the average American by showing the impact of higher health care costs on the price of a car or other goods made in the US vs Canada or Japan.


 In 1992, Ross Perot effectively used simple charts to get some of his major points across.  Years early, in my father’s 1956 successful bid to become the youngest governor of West Virginia, he used simple posters to point out that the state was paying much more than surrounding states for road building equipment.

During my six years as a consultant, manager and partner at Bain & Company, we used simple bar charts to show clients their uncompetitive cost positions.  During my tenure, I showed CEO’s, factory workers, and cardiac surgeons these charts, and in every instance, they got it.  Obama needs to do the same.

From Coalition Marketing – Use the logo’s of your diverse group of supporters and use their voices to support reform.

In 1992, after launching the AIR MILES shopping reward program in Canada, I coined the term Coalition Loyalty Program to describe reward programs where consumers could collect points from multiple retailers who were given exclusivity or co-exclusivity in their consumer spending category (e.g. grocery stores, gas stations, credit cards).  In addition to AIR MILES in Canada, other successful coalition loyalty programs include Nectar in the UK, Fly Buys in Australia and Upromise in the US.  One of the benefits of a coalition program versus a single company or stand-alone program is the power of coalition marketing.  When programs are launched with the full marketing support of leading companies like Safeway, Shell and Bank of Montreal, they achieve breakthrough awareness in record time.

The support of these market leaders also gives the new program instant gravitas, which helps the company running the program to receive favorable PR coverage and in-turn, sign up more leading companies.  In all of our business development, PR and marketing materials we prominently featured the logos of our major sponsors.  Our coalition partners went even further to support the program and grow the coalition – they helped us sell new sponsors.  On one occasion, Derrick Fry, then SVP of Electronic Marketing for Bank of Montreal (which at the time was the 6th largest bank in North America) flew with us to Calgary to meet with a potential sponsor for dinner and then flew back to Toronto on the red eye.  On another occasion, Bill Turner, then CMO of Sears Canada, helped us pitch a leading Ontario grocer on the program.

The other thing missing when I watch Obama’s press conferences and rallies are the logos and names of the broad base of businesses, organizations and other leaders that support healthcare reform.  Among others, Wal-Mart, the AARP, PhRMA (the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association), and the AMA all support healthcare reform.  Why not use these organizations’ support as proof that reform is needed and why not use their leaders to promote the need for reform?


One of the best examples of creating and leveraging a stellar list of supporters also comes from the coalition loyalty world.  In 2001, Michael Bronner and Jeff Bussgang, the founders of Upromise, with the help of their VC General Catalyst, created one of the most impressive lists of supporters ever assembled.  Their Advisory Board included: former Senator Bill Bradley; Kim Clark, then Dean of Harvard Business School, John Doerr from Kleiner Perkins, David Rockefeller; and John C Whitehead, former Chairman of Goldman Sachs and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  Talk about gravitas, with this lineup of supporters, Upromise could get a meeting with any CEO or CMO in the country and they used the group to help them recruit the largest coalition of sponsors ever assembled in the US.

A few months ago, former Senate Leaders Democrat Tom Daschle and Republicans Howard Baker and Bob Dole published Crossing Our Lines – Working Together to Reform the US Health System, their proposal for healthcare reform.  Why not use these three leaders along with the CEO’s of Wal-Mart, the AMA, PhRMA, and the AARP as a base to build a broad coalition of supporters and engage them in the active promotion of the need to pass healthcare reform?

I agree with the experts and pundants  that if Obama wants to pass healthcare legislation this year, he needs to take a more aggressive leadership role and also be more specific about the plan he wants, but I also believe he will be much more successful if he builds and leverages a coalition of supporters to help him.  That’s how he became president in the first place.

1 reply
  1. bill turner
    bill turner says:

    Craig, saw your picture. Didn’t you have hair at one time? Glad to see you’re still active and “selling”. Hope all is well in your life. Air Miles continues strong in Canada–your lasting legacy

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