By Matt Smith

My first two columns in this series focused on what could be categorized as traditional advertising. But I think everyone would agree that marketing is about much more than advertising. At its heart, marketing is about communication in all its myriad forms. And I recently came across a piece of communication that stands out as not only brilliant in its inception and execution, but also particularly successful.

I’m talking about the letter House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to President Donald Trump on Jan. 23 in which she effectively disinvited him to deliver his State of the Union address to Congress because of the government shutdown, which was raging at the time. You can read it here.

It’s important to keep in mind that my point of view on this letter has nothing whatsoever to do with politics. Forget about the actual substance of the letter and all the political shenanigans associated with it. I’m looking at it strictly as a communications vehicle, and it’s terrific. Here’s why.

Think of it as a print ad or, better yet, a piece of direct mail. It started out as direct mail (to the President) and then became print when the press picked it up and then went on to hit social media via a series of tweets and links. In other words, a multimedia, integrated campaign.

What I also like about the letter is that it’s written in the distinct and original voice of Nancy Pelosi, a person who happens to be a powerful politician. It’s not delivered in some random, robotic, bureaucratic monotone. It’s powerful, succinct and definitely to the point. In only 135 words, Pelosi delivers a strong message, easily comprehended and clearly written to be seen by others.

It’s this last point that makes the letter resemble a campaign designed to influence its target audience—namely every citizen of the United States. The style and delivery is engaging, and helps us understand what sort of person she is. It smartly employs the brand equity of Pelosi the person—not necessarily the Speaker of the House of Representatives—but a well-known personality with a message to deliver.

In contrast, Trump’s letter in this skirmish doesn’t carry the same tone as Trump the man when he speaks in person. It feels crafted, and I wonder how much he bristled when writing it (if indeed he even wrote it himself, which is doubtful). Trump’s medium is Twitter and chaos. As a result, his letter feels like one of those fake email newsletters littered with crappy stock images that you get from realtors. Again—I’m not talking politics here, just basic communication skills.

And Nancy nailed it. If I were judging the ADDY Awards, I’d give her letter best in show in the print category.


Matt Smith is founder of SmithGifford, and has close to 40 years’ experience as a creative and agency leader at the nation’s top agencies.  SmithGifford is a Capitol Communicator sponsor.

You can find Matt Smith’s earlier columns here  and here.



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