New York Times features Firehouse Strategies

June 7, 2016

The New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg features Firehouse Strategies in his Mediator column:

“She is fighting a conventional war and he is fighting an asymmetrical war, and I don’t think that bodes well for her,” said Terry Sullivan, a Republican strategist. Mr. Sullivan has a unique perspective on the question, as the former manager of Senator Marco Rubio’s vanquished presidential campaign.

Mr. Sullivan; the former Rubio communications adviser Alex Conant; and a lawyer for Mr. Rubio, Will Holley, had reached out to me to discuss their new consulting firm, Firehouse Strategies. It’s based on the premise that Mr. Trump has rewritten the rules of modern communications strategy, and candidates and corporations need to take heed.

The primary lesson: “The solution is always more content, not less,” Mr. Sullivan said.

The Rubio strategists learned this firsthand during the Republican primaries. Every time they got their hopes up that some new forest fire would incinerate Mr. Trump’s candidacy, he seemed to douse it by pumping out programming for the always-flowing cable and internet news stream.

So, if news of violent protests at Trump events appeared to be threatening his campaign, Mr. Trump could force the discussion into a debate over whether one of his protesters was affiliated with ISIS. (He wasn’t.) And remember how he overwhelmed news of Gov. Nikki Haley’s endorsement of Mr. Rubio ahead of South Carolina’s primary by engaging in a fight with the pope?

Political communications start-up, Firehouse Strategies, has the evolving digital world at center. Photo by Allison Shelley for The New York Times
Political communications start-up, Firehouse Strategies, has the evolving digital world at center. Photo by Allison Shelley for The New York Times

Mr. Trump’s willingness to say just about anything, and his merry courting of trouble, was an eye-opening break from the traditional, tightly scripted approach of keeping candidates away from trouble.

More important, it made the news all about Mr. Trump, blocking his opponents’ attempts to break through with carefully planned policy speeches, classic endorsement announcements and 30-second commercials. What’s 30 seconds here or there in a constantly churning, 24-hour Trump marathon?

What Mr. Trump realized, and Mrs. Clinton should too, Mr. Conant said, is that “there’s just a steady flow of information, and if you don’t try to provide the content, your opponents or your critics will.”

Yet Mr. Rubio’s former advisers acknowledged that trying to out-Trump Mr. Trump can prove fatal. Their candidate all but imploded after he tried to match his opponent insult for insult, claiming that Mr. Trump had small hands, which in turn indicated that he had a small — do I really need to finish the analogy?

Their point is that modern candidates do not need to light their “hair on fire, and keep it on fire,” as Mr. Trump does. “You just need to deliver more content,” Mr. Sullivan said.

Read the full column here.