The Local Politics of Selling an Idea

A friend of mine recently got a fancy new job as a deputy press secretary for a U.S. Senator. While congratulating him on the exciting new gig, he modestly demurred and suggested that his boss is the one who handles interactions with the big national news outlets, while he’s mainly responsible for relationships with the smaller, less prestigious local newspapers. Think The Main Street Gazette rather than the The New York Times.

“Actually,” I told him, “I think your role may be more important than your boss; role.”

Why would that be?

When trying to sell someone on an idea, we often look to the person with the most reach, power, and responsibility. They are important, influential people who we believe hold all of the power to drive decisions forward. The New York Times of decision makers.

But just as “all politics is local”, so too must be the effort to sell an organization on your idea. To win the hearts, minds, and votes, you must appeal to the needs of the locals.

A U.S. Senator has a national stage but is elected by local voters. Working with your company may have strategic importance across an enterprise, but the decision to work with you is also in the hands of the local voters: the specific teams and individual people within the organization who care about the value you can provide to their roles and lives. Appealing to local interests is the the path to creating value that is recognized across a company.

The New York Times may not concern itself the plans for a new stoplight in your small town that would dramatically impact your daily commute, just as a more senior decision-maker at a company may not see the value you provide to their company at large. But The Main Street Gazette knows that its readers care about the details that affect their daily lives, just as a Marketing Manager may appreciate the value that your new email marketing product may have on his daily job more than the Head of Marketing does for her team’s grand overarching strategy.

It’d surely be exciting to see one’s pet project addressed by the Grey Lady, but the road to national prominence or the executive suite may both be longer than you expect. Like the senator, find the outlets to spread your message locally. Nurture your advocates whose personal needs you can address. Think globally, but act locally. It works to win elections, and it works to sell ideas.

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