Jeff Jubelirer
Jeff Jubelirer ()

In November 2013, Tom Wolf was polling in last place at 5 percent among Pennsylvania Democrats, with his name identification at less than one in four likely voters. Fast-forward six months to the May 20 primary where the new gubernatorial nominee received nearly 60 percent of the vote in trouncing three competitors.

How Wolf went from an unknown York, Pa., businessman and former state Department of Revenue secretary to the overwhelming victor provides many lessons for attorneys (and any service provider) looking to raise their profile and get more business.

While a lot has been said and written post-election about Wolf’s hefty war chest, he could not have accomplished such a significant victory without many additional smart strategies. Let’s take a look at four winning strategies deployed by the Wolf campaign and transfer them into lessons you can adopt in your daily work lives.

Perhaps the biggest lesson is that it’s best to be first with your message and therefore define the environment by which your target audiences evaluate you.

We all saw Wolf going up on television in February with positive biographical ads. He had several weeks of unfiltered airtime to introduce himself to his target audiences. He laid a strong first impression and defined his message and warm persona before voters made any judgments about him. Of course, we understand that having his own money to afford such a strong introduction played an important part in Wolf’s success. But it would not alone suffice, since eventually his primary opponents—each with higher name recognition—would be up on television advertising as well.

As attorneys and professional service providers, we also benefit when our message or pitch is heard before our competitors. We have a better opportunity to set the terms that are considered by our targets when they are determining whether to give us their business. We also can demonstrate our knowledge and insight before others in our respective fields, and thus are first in establishing our expertise and command of the issues.

Understanding your political or business climate represents a critical second lesson. Wolf had the benefit of never having run for political office at a time when voters were and are fed up with the status quo. Running as an “anti-politician” and espousing that characteristic proved valuable in his equation for victory.

In addition, being first and running positive commercials appealed to this insight. Each of the other candidates could not claim the same. While state Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Philadelphia, state Treasurer Rob McCord and Katie McGinty, the former secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, all had important experience working in state government, their records were not viewed as positively as Wolf’s lack of such.

In our arenas, it is also important to understand the prospect or client’s feelings about our backgrounds and experiences. Will having an affiliation with one political party turn off your prospect, or will it be an advantage? Will your experience serving on a nonprofit board aiding children in need be an attribute that gives you the leg up against your competition? Knowing what makes your prospective client sit up and take notice, or conversely become turned off, can help you seal a deal or kill it off.

The medium still matters. This third lesson means that where you communicate can make a discerning impression. For Wolf, television amplified how voters came to feel about him—as a caring, unassuming and successful businessman. This impression could not have been made through direct mail or even radio. Wolf’s team understood that the personality traits they wanted to communicate would have to be conveyed through the television.

Attorneys and others should heed the same advice. Are you a personal injury attorney offering an emotional message that will come off better through not only words but also body language and voice intonation? Television and radio are the way to go.

If you are a business lawyer with a complex message geared toward investors, then a message delivered through a business newspaper or presentation at an industry conference is the better direction. What matters is where your audience gets its information, not necessarily where you feel most comfortable or equipped to deliver your spiel.

What happens when someone challenges you or your message, or offers a competitive service? You could just react, but if other credible people respond on your behalf then you’ll be doing what Wolf so ably did in his counter to charges that he was not worker-friendly and not sensitive to racial issues.

In politics, as in business, only taking our word for it may not work. That’s why it’s so beneficial to have references with credibility in your areas of expertise or who can vouch for your character. For Wolf, it meant his own workforce coming to his defense (who better to counter an attack that says you ship out jobs or lay people off?) and the current African-American mayor of York when countering accusations of racial insensitivity.

As we head into the general election, it will be instructive to see how the Wolf campaign pivots in a two-person race against the incumbent, Gov. Tom Corbett. He will likely have to shift some strategies given a different political landscape. Let’s see if his winning recipe can be repeated. 

Jeff Jubelirer is vice president of Bellevue Communications Group. He leads the development and execution of his clients’ strategic communications programs, including media relations, issue and crisis management and community relations. He also is an adjunct professor in crisis communication at Temple University.