Optics – whatever they might be – count. A lot.
Just ask Big Bird.
Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney announced that he’d stop funding PBS – effectively sacking Big Bird and the Sesame Street crew that generations of kids and their parents have grown to love – as one of the first steps to lower the multi-trillion Federal debt. It was a rare misstep in a sterling first debate performance against President Obama in Denver.
Romney’s comment that he loved Big Bird but would be cutting funding for PBS caused an online explosion on Twitter.
With a well-viewed video saying “I like being able to fire people (for bad service)” the Big Bird line by Romney plays to the stereotype of an insensitive, rich man – the Thurston Howell Romney caricature created by the New York Times David Brooks.
The Heath Brothers in their really good book Made to Stick identify 5 elements that make something durable and memorable. Mitt Romney (unfortunately) nails all 5: the “Fire Big Bird” sentiment Romney left people with is simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and stories.
So what’s a person to do when you’re stating what appears to be obvious? Here are four thoughts:
- Think before you speak: what are you communicating and how does it fit with the bigger picture of what you’re trying to accomplish?
- What’s the worst headline to your comment or action read? If it’s not a headline you want to have hung around your neck, think about a different course of action.
- When in doubt, don’t: Ben Franklin’s advice and also attributed to a Yiddish saying.
- If you’re going to fire Big Bird, do it with a little more grace and thought. Kids have grown up on the yellow tall character since the 1960’s. A little tact, honor, and maybe empathy to time well served goes a long ways.
We’ll see where Romney and Barack finish up in the election. Right now my vote is with Big Bird.
(Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives) Mrs. Nixon meeting with Big Bird from Sesame Street in the White House, 12/20/1970