A Communications Strategist Discusses the Overlap of Politics and Branding

Kevin Hauswirth’s lessons learned in social media


Who Kevin Hauswirth

Age 29

New gig Senior strategist, Purple Strategies

Old gig Chicago’s first director of social media

What’s it been like to move to the private sector after working with Mayor Rahm Emanuel?

Because many of us at Purple grew up in political campaigns, we understand better than most that successful campaigns need to not just persuade, but to move people to act—whether by voting in an election, joining a cause or choosing one product over another. Clients ask us to build and communicate their narrative across every consumer touch point. It is possible to do this with a very creative campaign, but our goal is to move people to act, not to pad our reels.

Purple was founded outside of D.C. by consultants of different political stripes. What’s the Chicago office like?

We believe great minds don’t think alike. You walk into one office here and there are red elephants; down the hall someone has a huge photo of Ted Kennedy. I sit between a 20-year Leo Burnett veteran and a presidential appointee who ran a 250-person communications shop. TVs are playing both MSNBC and Fox. We’re political people; our return on investment is winning. Politicos have always understood branding; we just called it positioning.

Purple clients have included Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, BP, Mars, Nascar and Intuit. Why are they going beyond more traditional agencies?

Our clients understand that consumers hold brands to much higher standards than they did even 10 years ago, and the line between brand communications and public affairs is blurred. Gone are the days when people just cared about the product; now they care about the company. People want to feel good about their choices, whether it’s at checkout or in the voting booth.

Where did you learn your first lessons in social media?

You’ve got volunteers who work the phones or knock on doors. Now the canvasser is a tweeter, the door is a Facebook page, the palm card is a YouTube video. We can’t control what volunteers say on someone’s front porch any more than we can control what they tweet, but we can do everything possible to identify the right friends, educate them on our core message and inspire them to spread the word.

How did you change the city of Chicago’s digital communications?

It’s about more showing and less telling. Building digital that moves away from interruption marketing to innovation that invites interaction. For the mayor, we could tweet about how well the city is working until we’re blue in the face, or we could put budget visualizations online, let people track their 311 requests (Chicago’s nonemergency service request line) like they would a FedEx package or track a city snowplow in real time.

What were your Chicago initiatives you’re most proud of?

We cloud-sourced ideas about the city’s budget and then provided feedback around how the budget came together and the questions people had about different city priorities. It was a great tool to get more people involved. That led to livestream Facebook town halls where the mayor answered questions. We set up viewing locations all over the city, so if you didn’t have Internet access, you could still participate. We had people on the north side, south side, west side who may have never been to each other’s neighborhood, and suddenly they’re having a real-time conversation about public safety, education and recycling. It was a great visualization of the democratic vision of dialogue and interaction both between citizens and the mayor.