David Plouffe

Communication must be quick, easy, understandable

Political adviser David Plouffe talks about the changing face of communications.

February 25, 2020

Presidential campaigns and businesses might seem like they don’t have much in common, but political adviser David Plouffe says they both come down to similar goals: get people’s attention and eventually their support. Speaking to CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference Tuesday, the manager of Barack Obama’s two presidential campaigns shared his thoughts on communication, attention, and even the 2020 election.  

Plouffe, who said his first banking relationship was with his local credit union in Des Moines, Iowa, says communication is rapidly changing, and failing to realize that means failing to grow.  

"All of you, in your organizations and communities, are trying to find the best way to reach people. I don’t know whether I’m sad about this or not, but it’s the reality. The written word, long videos, podcasts, they all have their place. But if you want to reach people today, particularly anyone under the age of 40, you’ve got to think visual first. Memes, GIFs, and images are ruling the day.” 

He showed President Donald Trump’s tweet shortly after it was confirmed the U.S. had killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani: no words, no video, just the American flag.  

Then he showed a tweet from President Barack Obama in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017: A brief sentence about how hate is unnatural and a photo of Obama greeting children of different races. That image is  among the most popular tweets in Twitter history.  

“Ideally it’s a picture that doesn’t require much language. It’s got to be visual, it’s got to be emotional. It can’t bore people. It can’t be purely entertainment. In both cases Trump and Obama are saying important things,” he said. “I think this is a challenge for all of us that have been thinking about communicating in one way when the ground underneath us is shifting so dramatically."

While the ground is shifting, Plouffe said most major companies spend billions of dollars just to find ways to make people’s lives easier, even if it’s just by saving five seconds in their day.  

“I would encourage you, it’s something I’ve learned painfully, to learn how important speed is. Is it easy? Is it quick? Is it understandable?” he said. “The other thing we’re seeing in Generation Z is that they’re making values-based decisions, much different than my generation did. That can be an enormous benefit for you from an acquisition and retention standpoint."

As a veteran of two successful presidential campaigns and in the midst of Democratic primaries, Plouffe also opined on the current state of the primary.  

“We forget sometimes that these candidates are human. A lot of candidates still in the race right now, they know somewhere in their heart, they’re not going to be the Democratic nominee. But it’s hard to get off that treadmill, one more state, one more debate, maybe a miracle will happen. I’m not a big believer in miracles in politics. I think the likelihood is that you’re looking at Sanders or Biden as the nominee. There’s an outside chance of Bloomberg.” 

Regardless of the nominee, Plouffe believes Arizona (11 Electoral College votes) and Wisconsin (10 Electoral College votes) are the two states that will likely determine the presidency, because winning one or both is likely to push a candidate past the 270 votes needed to win.

►Visit CUNA News for more conference coverage and get live updates on Twitter via @CUNA_News@cumagazine@CUNA, and #CUNAGAC. Follow the conference on Facebook and Instagram, and visit for more information.