Uber has hired Barack Obama's 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, as its SVP for Policy & Strategy – signalling that the company now recognises the importance of politics and PR when causing disruption.
As much as I hate to admit it, the sad reality of politics today (both in the political world and the business world) is that how you say something is becoming far more important than what you are actually saying. PR rules the world.
Veep is one of my favourite running shows at the moment on TV, not only for the incredible writing and the hysterical one liners, but because it shines a big fat light on the way that political parties across the world operate – the political messages are less important than the personality. One of my favourite quotes is:
Here Vice President Selina Meyer sums up perfectly the essence of political campaigns – 'real people' don't actually know what they want, so let's serve them up what we want, in a way that makes them think its what they want.
Now, I just want to make it clear that I am most absolutely not saying that I think Uber is an empty novelty product. However, I do think that the hire of Plouffe signals a recognition from Uber CEO Travis Kalanick that if the company wants to become a big player in the transportation industry, without facing constant legal and regulatory threats, it needs to deploy some truly excellent PR.
As we all know, Uber is constantly facing setbacks from the taxi industry and regulators, both of which believe that the taxi app is unfairly competing in an age-old market that needs protection. And with the hire of Plouffe – who masterminded Obama's campaign to become President in 2008 (against many odds) – he may just be the man to make Uber the transportation company for the mobile generation to be reckoned with.
And Plouffe is a man that has a lot of support (well, if he didn't you'd have to wonder about his PR skills). Take a look at these quotes of support:
I’ve worked closely with David and believe this is a game changer for Uber. David is uniquely suited to scale and lead the same kind ofinsurgent campaign he did in 2008 for a Silicon Valley tech company, bridging the worlds of business and politics.”
—Eric Schmidt, Google Executive Chairman
“David Plouffe and Uber are a natural match. From my insurgent campaign in 2006 and since, David has shown an interest in and an appetite for challenging established ways – and winning. As we have seen in Boston, one of its first cities, so has Uber. I wish them both well.”
—Governor Deval Patrick (Massachusetts)
It’s the perfect marriage: You have the smartest strategist I have ever met, with one of the most innovative companies in America.”
—Jim Messina (Obama 2012 campaign manager)
And Uber CEO Kalanick himself recognises exactly what this appointment outlines – Uber's rise to growth is not just about a company scaling and investing, this is absolutely a political campaign. He said:
Cities and governments around the world have started to embrace the change Uber delivers. California, London, Chicago, Seattle, Houston and DC, are just a few examples.
But our mission has become a surprisingly controversial topic. Over the years, what I’ve come to realize is that this controversy exists because we are in the middle of a political campaign and it turns out the candidate is Uber. Our opponent – the Big Taxi cartel – has used decades of political contributions and influence to restrict competition, reduce choice for consumers, and put a stranglehold on economic opportunity for its drivers.
Our roots are technology, not politics, writing code and rolling out transportation systems. The result is that not enough people here in America and around the world know our story, our mission, and the positive impact we’re having. Uber has been in a campaign but hasn’t been running one. That is changing now.
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Kalanick went on to say that it has been his top priority and mission to help cities and citizens understand the Uber mission. Translation: we need to sell ourselves better. He added that Plouffe will be responsible for managing all global policy and political activities, communications and Uber's growing brand efforts.And Plouffe's statement on his appointment wastes no time in highlighting to the media and the public who are the good guys and who are the bad guys – all very 'subtly' of course. Please note the use of Plouffe highlighting political issues that will likely garner strong support from the masses (small business, drink driving, parents) and his use of words such as 'cartel', 'threat' and 'monopoly' – very clever. He said:
I am thrilled to be joining Travis Kalanick and the great team at Uber. As Uber succeeds like I believe it can, it will spur the creation of hundreds of thousands of small businesses and directly create millions of jobs; deliver rapid, easy and affordable transportation alternatives to workers, parents, businesses and people out having a good time; make our roads safer, drastically cutting down on drunk and distracted driving; and give those who choose not to purchase an automobile a more viable way to live their lives day to day.
Uber has the chance to be a once in a decade if not a once in a generation company. Of course, that poses a threat to some, and I’ve watched as the taxi industry cartel has tried to stand in the way of technology and big change. Ultimately, that approach is unwinnable. But I look forward to doing what I can right now to ensure drivers and riders are not denied their opportunity for choice in transportation due to those who want to maintain a monopoly and play the inside game to deny opportunity to those on the outside.
I could not be more excited to join such a vibrant company and its people who will be at the absolute leading edge of tomorrow’s innovations and changing people’s lives and their cities for the better. It will be a privilege to jump in the foxhole with the team at this great startup and get to work.
Uber is a company that will succeed because its an innovator and it is providing the market something that it wants.
But don't underestimate the power of PR, darling.