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Frank Luntz: How To 'Win' With Smart Messaging

Republican strategist Frank Luntz is known as a master of political messaging. In his book <em>Win,</em><em> </em>he argues that principles of good political communication also apply to business.
Republican strategist Frank Luntz is known as a master of political messaging. In his book <em>Win,</em><em> </em>he argues that principles of good political communication also apply to business.

According to Republican strategist Frank Luntz, Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992 "because he, more than any other political figure, understood what was happening in the country at that time, and had an innate ability to communicate it right back." Luntz analyzes this victory and others in his new book Win: The Key Principles to Take Your Business from Ordinary to Extraordinary.

As a longtime media strategist, Luntz has helped craft many sound bites and political phrases during his career, from "death tax" to the "Contract with America." In Win, Luntz argues that careful messaging is as essential to business as it is to politics.

"The best advertising and the best communication when it comes to business is that which makes you smile, that which makes you think, that which makes you ponder," Luntz tells NPR's Neal Conan.

People "want to be inspired. They want to aspire to something. ... You can have the best product, the best service, the best argument in a debate," says Luntz. "But without the effective words you still lose. In the end you need good principles and good language if you are to succeed."

Politicians are under particular pressure to communicate effectively, says Luntz. "They are living, breathing embodiments of the language they use ... when you're selling a product or service it doesn't have to be absolutely perfect," he says. "When you're a politician, one wrong word changes the ... meaning of something."

As a pollster, Luntz has conducted extensive surveys and focus groups for political clients. One of the most powerful political advertisements he's tested, he says, is Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott's slogan, "Let's get to work."

"He used 'lets get to work' to say, all these politicians talk — it's time to do," says Luntz. "Everybody else talks about the problem — it's time to find a solution."

Visuals are also critical to effective messaging, says Luntz — something that Scott used to his advantage in a campaign advertisement invoking the "Let's get to work" slogan. The ad depicts Scott "moving down an alleyway, putting his jacket on and looking like this guy's gonna kick some butt. ... 'Let's get to work' says, 'Lets get it done.' "

Equally powerful in both political and commercial messaging, says Luntz, are images that listeners or viewers must supply themselves. "The perfect opening is 'imagine,' " says Luntz, "because imagine allows you to communicate in the eyes or vision of the listener rather than yours."

Luntz looks to the classic George Orwell novel 1984to illustrate the point. "Room 101 --" says Lunz, referring to the torture chamber depicted in the book, "we all have our own imagination about what that looks like. When we saw the movie, and we saw what they said Room 101 was, it didn't work for anybody. Because it's not how we imagine it," says Lunz.

"To imagine 'the American dream' allows the listener to define the communication on their own terms. That's what makes it so powerful."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.