CounterPoint packs a punch at 2018 Pollies

We had a great time when the 2018 AAPC Pollie Awards came to Nashville. We enjoyed getting to see some of you and seeing the best of 2018 in political messaging.

We’re excited to report that CounterPoint Messaging won 3 Pollie Awards:

“Brutal Baker” 
Best Use of Negative or Contrast Radio

“Brutal Baker” 
Radio Candidate Division

“Rick Nothing”
Radio for PAC/Super PAC

“Brutal Baker” was run in Rick Kriseman’s race when he was down 15 points and being outspent by $500,00 The top political blog called the race “over” unless our opponent was “struck by lightning.” 

Kriseman was down by 15 points against a popular former mayor of the city who began the race with 70% positive rating and 16% negative rating.  

Check out the case study about Rick “the Comeback Kid” Kriseman’s race here.

CASE STUDY: Rick Kriseman


The Challenge:

  • Rick Kriseman trailed by as much as 15 points.
  • Florida Politics declared “The St. Petersburg mayor’s race is over” “finis. Kapot.” “…Unless  struck by lightning … Baker (our opponent) will be sworn-in for a third term as St. Petersburg mayor.”
  • Kriseman was outspent by nearly $500,000.

The Campaign:

There were many ingredients to “The Great Comeback in St. Pete.”   A few key components:

  • A CLIMATE CHANGE MESSAGE THAT WORKS: Our framework of Forward vs. Backwards still worked but he dramatically retooled our proof points and made the race a referendum on climate change. The Tampa Bay Times said “Kriseman’s focus on the issue worked. Plenty of other candidates across the country, including 2014 gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, have tried to do the same with little payoff.” “Kriseman's success could be a model for progressives and Democrats going into next year's elections,” Progress Florida Executive Director Mark Ferullo said.  (LINK: All Ads)
  • TRUMP & REPUBLICANS … LINK THEM & SINK THEM: Linking Baker to Trump’s positions on climate change denial, police brutality promotion and cluelessness on Charlottesville were keys to the comeback.  Sunshine State News said, “Trump Albatross in St. Pete? … it should be a warning sign… It should cause Republicans to ask themselves, how could a guy who was so beloved in this community (Baker) not be able to turn that on again.”   WFLA-TV Political analyst Barry Edwards said Kriseman ultimately had the better strategy, tying Baker to Trump.” (Link: ALL ADS)
  • EPIC FIELD:  A fully integrated campaign across all mediums with persuasion and GOTV. (link (Backwards Baker.  Campaign Manager Jacob Smith and Field Director Adriene Bogan oversaw a volunteer driven field program that identified over 10,000 supporters and knocked on over 20,000 doors in the final 4 days alone, a nearly 1-1 ratio of door knocks to Election Day voters.
  • MEDIA & DIGITAL’S ROLE IN GOTV, FIELD AND PERSUASION:  We had tracks of creative and paid messaging on social media, digital, radio and TV with an eye toward persuasion (increased numbers with independents), GOTV (white Democrats) and African-Americans.
  • HUGE IMPROVEMENT: Improved our standing 20-25 pts from initial polls (persuasion and GOTV).

The Result:

Data guru MCI Maps' post-election report called it “…one of the biggest Dem shockers in recent Florida history.” – MCI Maps, 10 November 2017,

Tampa Bay Times called Kriseman “the comeback kid” in their Winners/Losers of the Week section.

In the primary it was one of the biggest comebacks and the closest race we’ve in which we've ever been a part.

52-48 win (after trailing by 15; six polls showed the race a 1-2 pt race before our win.

From a 70 vote win (48-48) in the primary to the general, Kriseman's performance was better with all persuasion and GOTV targets:  white Democrats, African Americans and Independent (NPA) voters.

The creative work:

Digital, TV and Radio spots: Click here

The Team:

Rick Kriseman, A candidate who is the right leader at the right time

Kerry Kriseman, a volunteer phone banking warrior

Jacob Smith, campaign manager and communications director

Adrienne Bogen, field director who led a 20,000 door knock, 20,000 phone call effort the last weekend

Omar Kahan, General & Strategic Consultant

Impact Campaigns/Travis Peterson, direct mail

Tom Eldon, pollster

CounterPoint Messaging, TV, radio, digital 

Hulsen Media Services, media buying

Michael Worley, social media and digital

Hundreds of volunteers, the LGBTQ community, the Florida Education Association and the Florida Democratic Party all made a difference as well.



Read on Huffington Post

Even before Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors they had taken a swift path from worst-to-first among NBA franchises. All of us who build and work on teams can learn from some of their key moves – especially the Democratic Party.


WARRIORS: In the 2015 NBA Finals, the Warriors found themselves down two games to one and on the ropes with the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Coach Steve Kerr’s “special assistant,” (the team video guy), Nick U’Ren, came to Kerr after a Game 3 loss and suggested having non-starter Andre Iguodala guard LeBron James, based on what he saw in videos of the San Antonio Spurs and how they had guarded James in a past NBA finals. Kerr did it. It worked, and not only did the Warriors win three straight games and their first title in 40 years, but Iguodala become the first non-starter in NBA history be named Finals MVP. 

DEMOCRATS need some disruptive thinking and that usually doesn’t happen from the top strata of any party in Washington DC.   From the grass roots to some of our best strategic brains, you can’t get communications up the chain of command if you don’t have a system for the communications, and leadership that has a loop of aggressively getting feedback, putting some of it into action and then repeating the process.


WARRIORS:  Before the start of the 2011-2012 NBA season, the Warriors had not had a winning season since ’07-’08. About their only bright light was Monta Ellis (22 points per game) who led the team in scoring the previous year. Lacob made the stunning decision to trade him in March of 2012, which freed up salary cap room as well as Curry’s playing style, allowing him to create opportunities for himself on the court. In the short term, Lacob was vilified.  In fact, at the halftime ceremony honoring Warrior Hall of Fame Player Chris Mullin, the crowd did not stop booing Lacob the entire time he was on the court. For an introvert, you can’t imagine a bigger nightmare than when the one time you get out in front of the public --- this happens.

DEMOCRATS have lost approximately 1,500 offices since 2009. We can’t move forward without new blood.  From the top to the bottom of the ticket, we need to make space in our party for the talent of the future that was not necessarily the talent of the past.


WARRIORS: Years ago, no one imagined the meekly-built Steph Curry as a two-time NBA MVP.  In 2011, Curry had just had a season ending ankle injury, and the Warriors needed to decide whether or not to give him a contract extension. If they didn’t, they would likely lose him to free agency. There was a great debate about giving a four-year, $44 million-dollar deal to a player who might be damaged goods. Then, Lacob asked THE key question: “Has anyone ever had a career-ending ankle injury?” The team discussed. Knee and foot? Yes. But no one knew of a career-ending ankle injury. So, Curry was given his extension.

DEMOCRATS have lost three of the last five Presidential elections and could have won all five.  There has been a plethora of finger pointing, ideological food fights and dismissal of the rise of the progressive movement.  Local and national party leaders need to ask the right questions, not keep pushing the same old answers, or answers that merely advance their own pre-2016 points of view.


WARRIORS:In 2013, the Warriors improved more than any other team (+wins vs. previous year) and Mark Jackson was in the running for “Coach of the Year.” The team’s leadership still saw problems with Jackson getting them to the next level.

For DEMOCRATS to be a majority party again, we’ve got to let go of some elected leaders and political advisors who have been great in the past but can’t get the job done in the future.  Some of the best campaigns in recent decades were not from frontrunners and established candidates with all the heavyweights of either party on their teams (i.e. Clinton ‘92, Obama ‘08), but were longshots with a hungry and cohesive team.  


The WARRIORS managing partner, head coach, and general manager were all new in these positions right before they won their first title. But they had team consultant Jerry West to lean. West is a Hall of Fame talent for the three phases of his basketball career: a) All-Star Lakers player (his body is the model for the NBA logo), general manager (led Lakers to three titles) and team consultant (Grizzlies, Warriors).

DEMOCRATS in some sectors want to revert back to past approaches and others want to throw out the experienced methods and people.  A blend of new blood and seasoned candidates, senior advisors and grass roots talent is probably the right mix for most teams.  A blending of best practices they never change in politics with the latest techniques and technology is a signature of a great campaigns and political movements on the rise.

Tiger, Trump And Hillary’s Crisis Kryptonite

Read on Huffington Post

One thing Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton all have in common is that when it comes to managing a crisis, there is almost no one around them who can speak truth to power.

The most important crisis communications skill is the ability to tell the principal - candidate, CEO, athlete, entertainer - very directly what they need to do, but don’t want to hear.

The celebrity athlete’s problem, like Tiger or Lance Armstrong, is that, often, all the people on their team have 100% or too much of their income dependent only on one person. It’s nearly impossible for them to speak directly to the client. A mindset of loyalty over talent keeps new people from getting in and giving good advice when disaster strikes.

We saw it with Tiger’s response to his initial 2009 crisis and his crisis this week. Somehow, his team decided that pill popping would be viewed as a lesser offense than driving drunk. They are in the bubble, unable to access a fresh perspective, and Tiger may well be managing his own crisis by default.

Trump’s crises are so regular and plentiful that the best example may be next week. Hillary Clinton’s handling of the private email server scandal was a great example of a high-profile person not being pushed to do the right things for over a year.

After working with hundreds of candidates at all levels, I’ve learned that you must speak directly to the candidate as often as possible or most campaigns won’t win. This has been understood and come naturally to most major political campaigns; that is until 2016. Trump and Hillary bucked that trend.

It seems no one around Donald Trump pushes him to do anything he doesn’t want to do. This has become his kryptonite as he tries to put out fires of his own making or not. Hillary Clinton did not embrace reflection and dissention. This is in sharp contrast to how Bill Clinton, the ultimate political crisis survivor, operated.

The political pollster Pat Caddell once said that a politician or CEO’s ability to listen to good advice is “inversely proportional to how well they think they are doing.”

Good crisis prevention involves both imagining how things could go terribly wrong and trying to figure out how to keep positive momentum going.

Often the PR team you’re working with when things are going well is not the best crisis management communications team. They are used to dealing with all positive interactions with the top leadership.

So, if you are part of a team facing a crisis, or about to face a crisis, ask yourself: “Who can speak directly to the top dogs and not fear for their job or livelihood?”

If you are a CEO, candidate, or national personality, ask yourself: “Do I have anyone on my team who confidently gives me sound advice and doesn’t fear dissent?”

Looking back on their handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Robert Kennedy wrote, “The fact that we were able to talk, debate, argue, disagree, and then debate some more was essential in choosing our ultimate course.”

The Israeli Military (IDF) has a formal office of “devil’s advocates” often called “The Tenth Man” tasked with writing memos and challenging the conventional wisdom of intelligence and military strategy ( “The task of the Tenth Man is to explore alternative assumptions and worst-case scenarios, and they can do so without fear of damage to their careers.”

Great investigative news media units have a “red team” with a charge to poke holes in stories ( ). It’s been recommended to big tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google and Samsung to have a team to challenge the wisdom of some of their new products ( ). Even when we are right about something, we’re often only 95% right, and a counter viewpoint can help to sharpen the thinking.

Why do smart, strategically successful people do such dumb things? Often, it is because of a cognitive bias. A critical thinking blind spot hits a number of common cognitive biases: Confirmation Bias, Bandwagon Effect, Ingroup Bias and Optimism Bias (

Just image if in addition to all the war hawks, George W. Bush had a “red team” of “devil’s advocates” systematically arguing against an Iraq invasion.

A talented and straight-talking consultant, consigliere, friend or spouse is what every leader needs when facing a crisis. Find that person now. It’s even harder to find a “truth to power” person in the middle of a crisis.

If Trump Wins, Conventional Wisdom Loses, Again

Read on Huffington Post

If everyone agrees on something in any profession, be afraid, be very afraid.

Time and again, conventional wisdom is wrong in every arena where we keep score: politics, business, sports and finance.

A cadre of strategists and journalists has proclaimed for 70 days that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is D.O.A. Yet, it’s been one of the best examples of conventional wisdom at its worst.

After the first 2016 Republican debate on Aug. 6 in Cleveland, almost every political pundit and operative from all political persuasions declared Trump a debate loser. However, he fared quite well in the debate, and the “Trump Bump” continued.

Trapped in a conventional-wisdom echo chamber, these commentators have had a hard time distinguishing their personal beliefs from the feelings of Republican primary voters, because the Tea Party is not well represented on the talking-head circuit.

After clearing my head of the conventional wisdom and assessing Trump’s strengths, weaknesses and audience, my prediction is that Trump will win the Republican primary.

Here’s why.

Synchronicity with his audience
Trump has a lot going for him with Republican primary voters. Compared to commentators based in Washington, D.C., this electorate is older, angrier, whiter, extremely anti-Obama, more male and more steeped in Middle America values. Even when it is outlandish, Trump’s message speaks to this sliver of the country.

A billion-dollar brand
Not since Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower ran for president has a candidate begun with a more valuable and deeply defined brand. Even Ronald Reagan was never part of a hit movie, but Trump has starred in a prime-time major-network TV show since 2004. No matter what Trump’s net worth actually is, his “brand” has to be worth at least a billion advertising dollars. No one has ever run for president with his level of awareness among the public, from the informed electorate to barely informed voters. Since he is already defined to these voters, they stick by him even when he says something outlandish.

The antithesis of Obama
In the 2008 election, part of Barack Obama’s appeal to Democratic primary voters was how different he seemed from then-President George W. Bush. A thoughtful orator from humble beginnings, Obama was a biracial internationalist who opposed the Iraq War. But in 2016, who could be more different from President Obama than Donald Trump? The business mogul is boastful, impetuous and the son of privilege.

Brash contrarians sell in primaries
Primary voters want someone who stands for something and doesn’t play it safe. U.S. Sen. John McCain does not like Donald Trump. David and Charles Koch do not like Donald Trump. Most insiders do not like him either, having predicted a swift fall from grace that has not happened.

In the general election, it would be a great strength for Trump to tout how many political insiders tried to stop him. He could eventually get the Koch brothers’ money and still believably tell voters he will stand up to them. Being independently wealthy feeds a message that Trump “is his own man.”

Well-timed messaging from a business man
Trump’s bluster cloaks a few of his smartly-timed political moves. His message on immigration (hateful as it is) speaks to one of the top issues that enrages Republican primary voters. His battle with President Obama over birth certificates was only a few years ago, when 51 percent of Republican primary voters believed Obama was not born in the U.S. Now, polling data says 61 percent of Trump’s supporters believe the President of the United States was born outside of the country.

Despite Trump’s business failures, he is still one of the most successful and best-known business leaders ever to seek the presidency. Republican primary voters love a swaggering capitalist. His billion-dollar brand and his business profile have even ended up erasing some of his callow and careless statements.

Endless exposure
Don’t forget that Trump has barely tapped into his financial resources for the campaign so far and could spend hundreds of millions of dollars easily. He has not yet begun to fight the spending war and still has generated tens of millions of dollars of free coverage. I don’t think we have ever seen a candidate this wealthy and this good at generating free, positive media coverage.

A media relations master
Trump continues to gets his message out, because he is always in control of what he says. Unlike almost all the other candidates, he doesn’t let tough or hostile questions knock him off his game. Just recall how Trump deftly handled Sasha Cohen’s Ali G character when the comedian attempted to punk him a few years ago.

So, who can serve as the Republican party’s Obi-Wan Kenobi? Who is their best hope to beat Trump?

There are a number of candidates in the field that would certainly be a better candidate than Mitt Romney was in 2012, but there are just too many of them. The only hope now is for the party to unite around the “anti-Trump” candidate. It could be former-Gov. Jeb Bush, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Marco Rubio or a few others. But the only way to dump Trump in the primary is to get him one-on-one, so voter attention turns to just a single other candidate.

The bottom line? Trump could win, and I think he will. I don’t see how they stop him. Candidates like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich led in 2012 and then dropped swiftly, because they did not have the billion-dollar brand Trump has. But the broader lesson about conventional wisdom is that, if everyone agrees on something in any profession, be afraid, be very afraid.

Some of my political observations about the Trump Bump may not have staying power, but the points about the disease of conventional wisdom will continue to be true. Like the British writer Doris Lessing said, “Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself.”