Lessons from Obama Overseas

We all know that Europeans have been watching the U.

We all know that Europeans have been watching the U.S. presidential race very closely, but one thing that’s not gotten enough coverage, I think, is how our overseas friends in the campaign industry will apply some of this year’s strategies to win their own races. 

There are too many differences between European and U.S. elections for there to be a direct translation, of course. Campaigns here are managed by the parties, rather than each candidate selecting his own staff and consultants. And strict laws — and the public’s concerns over potential privacy invasions — prevent the parties from collecting and keeping vast stores of voter data, which means microtargeting is basically off the table. 

The Europeans are keenly dissecting Barack Obama’s messaging, branding and Internet strategies, though. A political awards ceremony in Berlin last night, for example, devoted 20 minutes to will.i.am’s “Yes We Can”—complete with German-language variations that had some guests here lamenting that their language just isn’t cool enough to do the song justice.  

I wish I could tell you more about the awards, hosted in a smoke-filled cabaret a block from the Bundestag. But everything was in German, except for speakers dropping the word “Obama” more frequently than I raised my glass of heffeweisen.  

The PolitikAwards were launched in 2003 by Politik & Kommunikation, a German monthly that was based on our very own Campaigns & Elections. Like the Pollies and the Reed Awards in the U.S., they honor the best political and public affairs campaigns. This year’s red-carpet awards featured the German finance minister, the Speaker of Parliament, and several members of the Bundestag.   

The event was held in conjunction with two campaign trainings, the Politik Kongress in Berlin and the European Agenda Summit in Brussels. The hosts invited me to speak about lessons learned from Obama’s win, but I’ve also been sitting in on workshops throughout the week. Training attendees — mostly campaigners, public affairs strategists and lobbyists — have had some very pointed questions for the Americans about the presidential election. Which makes one thing crystal clear: Europeans intend to suck the marrow out of Obama’s strategy to fuel their own 2009 campaigns. And that will be fun to watch.Christie Findlay is managing editor at Politics magazine. cfindlay@politicsmagazine.com  

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