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authenticity in communication

Authenticity matters (or, Why Bobby Jindal Won’t Win but Chris Christie Might)

Bobby Jindal just announced (via Facebook) today that he is adding himself to the slew of GOP 2016 presidential hopefuls.

There are lots of reasons why Jindal does not have even a small chance of winning the nomination: Louisiana (the state where he is currently governor) is doing badly, he lacks charisma, and he has made a series of questionable/false/stupid comments recently (Muslim no-go zones, for example).

Currently polling at about one percent, Jindal faces tremendous challenges even getting in to the Fox News GOP candidates debate that will only allow the top ten contenders on stage. It’s pretty clear that Jindal is jockeying for a vice presidential nod, but even that is out of reach for him. Why? He has a huge authenticity problem.

Jindal, who was named Piyush by his Indian parents, seems to have rejected his background. He converted to Catholicism and changed his name to Bobby. He has even said he doesn’t consider himself Indian-American, but just American. The Washington Post explores the question about how Jindal views his past in this article published yesterday: From Piyush to Bobby: How Does Jindal Feel About his Family’s Past.

This passage from the article (the bolding is mine) is very telling:

Suresh C. Gupta, a Potomac, Md., doctor, gave a fundraiser for Jindal’s first gubernatorial bid. But he said Jindal has actively tried to disassociate himself from the Indian American community in recent years.

“So what if he’s Republican? So what if he’s Christian? I don’t care about those things,” said Gupta, who is a Democrat. “But you can’t forget about your heritage. You can’t forget about your roots.”

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to the United States last September, a host of politicians attended his rally at Madison Square Garden. Jindal did not. When Jindal’s name was mentioned, he was booed by the crowd.

It’s impossible to say what motivated Jindal to embrace being “American” while at the same time downplaying his roots. Perhaps he is embarrassed by his background or perhaps he thinks people can’t relate to an Indian-American. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that potential supporters are turned off by his disassociation with his background.

Although the United States is a melting pot, and most immigrants try to assimilate, many still have pride in their heritage. And there are many politicians who embrace hyphenation, from the first Italian-American mayor of New York City Fiorello LaGuardia to former Congressman David Wu (D-OR), the only Chinese-American serving in the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2011.

An even more negative view of Jindal is given in the Politico Magazine article by Alan Greenblatt: “The Stupid Party’s Candidate:Running to the Right is not Working for Bobby Jindal.”

Greenblatt argues that Jindal is pandering to the more conservative base of the Republican Party. He writes:

A governor who reshaped his state by overhauling the education and Medicaid systems now hardly talks substance at all. In fairness, he has released detailed plans on taxes and education, but he routinely spends his time on the stump throwing red meat to the most conservative parts of his party.

He adds:

His pander approach hasn’t worked for him. “He is smart, he is policy knowledgeable,” says Henry Olsen, a conservative analyst at the Ethics & Public Policy Center, “but rather than build a public persona around his strengths, he has crafted a public persona around other people’s strengths.”

This adds up to an authenticity problem. Who is Bobby Jindal and why does he keep changing his stripes? People respond best to what is authentic and can generally spot a fake. Jindal seems to be working hard to be something he can never be. As long as he’s trying to be something he isn’t, he will continue to lag behind in the polls.

Authenticity matters, especially when you are trying to persuade.

What do you think? If you were Jindal’s communications person, what would you advise?




About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Are you afraid of being yourself?

I am not trying to get all new age and self-helpy with you. Instead, I am trying to find out whether you are presenting your “real self” to the world in your communications. In business lingo, this would translate into “are you being authentic?”

With social media, there is a blurring of lines between personal and professional. My Twitter feed, for example, features lots of political commentary. Some may not agree with my political viewpoint, but it is what it is. If you choose to not work with me because you disagree with me, so be it.

It turns out that people like authenticity. They like knowing who they are dealing with. And really, don’t you want to work with people who want to work with you, when they know your foibles, viewpoints, etc.?

I was inspired by the article “Best Social Media Tactic: Always be Authentic” in Inc. Magazine. Here, writer  Christina DesMarais interviews J. C. Kendall, CEO of TekPersona. Kendall is known as being brutally honest in his customer/social media exchanges. He feels that it is part of his branding strategy. He says the following:

You simply cannot avoid offending some people. No brand should waste undue time trying to appeal to everyone. When you are developing and supporting your brand, you are creating an expectation of what will occur through a transaction with your company. Your messaging has to focus on your target customer.

Emphasis above is mine. I think that too many organizations and individuals work too hard to be “nice,” to appeal to everyone. They are AFRAID of being disliked. But the truth is that not everybody will like you and that is OK. You don’t want everybody to listen to what you have to say–just your target audience. Your target WANTS what you have to offer.

So, if you are afraid of being yourself, stop. Be who you are and forget about being nice to everyone. I am not saying be mean or nasty. Just be authentic.

Are you afraid of being yourself? Why or why not?



About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.


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