Making Mayors, Governors, and Presidents

Conversation with political consultant Louis Perron of Perron Campaigns based in Zurich, Switzerland about helping his clients to run successful election campaigns around the world.

In this episode of Interlinks I talk to Louis Perron, who is a political consultant and founder of Perron Campaigns.

Louis is based in Zurich in Switzerland and works internationally having advised two presidents, a vice president, two cabinet members, five senators, three big city mayors and a former Miss Universe.

During the past years, he has worked in six countries and has won more than 15 competitive election campaigns, including three nationwide elections.

Click here to read transcript

Patrick Daly:

Hello, this is Patrick Daly and welcome to Interlinks. Interlinks is a program about connections, international business supply chains and globalization, and their effects on our life, our work, and our travel over recent times. Today on the show, we’ll be talking to Louis or Louis Perron, who is a political consultant and founder of Perron Campaigns. Louis is based in Zurich in Switzerland, but works internationally. And in his work, Louis has advised two presidents, a vice president, two cabinet ministers, five senators, three big city mayors, and a former Miss Universe. So welcome Louis, and thank you very much for being here with us today.

Louis Perron:

Hi Patrick.

Patrick Daly:

And is it Louie or Louis?

Louis Perron:

Actually, it’s Louis. It’s French.

Patrick Daly:

Louis. Okay.

Louis Perron:

But when I was in the U.S. I started to just accept Louis because Americans have a really hard time pronouncing a French name. So either way, it’s fine with me.

Patrick Daly:

Well, I actually have a buddy in Ireland from school days and his name is Louis and we always called him Louis. So it’s easy-

Louis Perron:

Fair enough.

Patrick Daly:

It’s easy for me.

Louis Perron:

Fair enough.

Patrick Daly:

Well, then to kick off, could you tell me about your career today and how you came to be a political consultant? Which is kind of something that most people wouldn’t be familiar with. And were you always interested in politics and if so, why?

Louis Perron:

Yes, I was always interested in politics. I think I was like 12 or 13 years old when I asked my parents to explain to me the difference between first-past-the-post proportional electoral systems. So ever since, that is my passion. My problem was that Swiss politics is just really boring. I mean, probably in Ireland you never hear about Swiss politics, and there’s a reason because it’s the most boring elections in the world. So-

Patrick Daly:

We hear about these interesting referendums you have from time to time.

Louis Perron:

Yes, we have referendums and it has served the country well. But my challenge was that I really liked elections, but it happened that I was born in a country where elections were really boring. So my way out was, and I found out when I was in the U.S., to be a political consultant because I can follow my passion, which is elections, but live an international life and here I am.

Patrick Daly:

Okay. So I guess you studied political science and then when you… I know you’ve done a doctorate along the way. And so how did your career develop?

Louis Perron:

Well, I did a master in the U.S., the Graduate School of Political Management, which is really about politics in Washington DC, was very fascinating. I mean… Because when I studied political science in Switzerland, they’re not really political, many students in political science. And here I went to Washington DC and everybody in Washington DC was like me. Imagine you’re in a city, everybody in the city is like you. I mean, it was really amazing. So I learned a lot. I interned, I went to many conferences, but then I felt, “Well, now I want to do it on my own.” I went back to Switzerland, did a PhD, but from the very beginning on, launched my own consulting business. I never planned to go into academia. So yeah.

Patrick Daly:

And on your LinkedIn profile, I had a look and it says, I quote, “I make mayors, governors and presidents.” How do you do that?

Louis Perron:

Well, and mostly by using market research. So basically I’m using market opinion research, not necessarily to see who’s winning or to publish it the way you see market research and polls in the media, we use the same tool but as a basis to make informed decisions in a campaign about whether or not to run to begin with, what should be your message, what should be your target audience, and then to track how you’re doing progress.

Patrick Daly:

And I saw your TED Talk also, which was very interesting, and you mentioned the four aims of effective political campaigns. So what are they? What are the four aims and what are some good examples of their application that most people would be able to relate to?

Louis Perron:

So it’s message, media, money and make no mistakes. It’s the four Ms it takes to win a high profile election. I think local elections are different, presence is much more important there. But in high profile, statewide, nationwide campaign, it’s only the four Ms. So you need a message, you need to tell people why they’re better off voting for you than when they vote for their opponent or one of the opponents. You need media to amplify the message because the best message is worth nothing if people don’t hear it. So you need money, again, which helps to amplify the message. And then if you can avoid at least big mistakes, that would be great. So I think if you have the four Ms under control, you’re in pretty good shape.

Patrick Daly:

And what would be a good example of a message, say, that really worked, whether from your work or from outside? Just the political environment that we’d all be familiar with.

Louis Perron:

Well then let’s look at the World Cup of election campaigns, U.S. Presidential Elections, and I think we would very easily be able to say what Donald Trump ran on in 2016, including the slogan which summarizes the message, “Make America Great Again.” We would probably all remember Barack Obama’s message and how it was summarized in a catchy slogan, “Change.” And isn’t it noteworthy that we would have a very hard time remembering Mitt Romney’s message or John McCain’s message or Hillary Clinton’s message. And I think that tells us a great deal about what a good message and the slogan should be all about.

Patrick Daly:

And in the four Ms, would you say there’s a natural ranking in terms of importance or does that depend?

Louis Perron:

I think probably the most important is the message and the most underestimated. I think people often use a lot of money communicating really a eco show without a message, empty content. I mean I know this when I work in countries where I don’t necessarily understand the local language, but just by simply looking at the materials, I feel it’s blatant propaganda. So I think the message and the money I think is overestimated. It’s one of the factors. It definitely helps, but by itself, it doesn’t communicate a message. You cannot create enthusiasm with money. And I would even think that too much money can undermine your message discipline and decision making discipline. So it’s not a problem I have very often, but I did encounter candidates actually with too much money.

Patrick Daly:

Okay. You say, “Make no mistakes,” but we all love seeing politicians make big mistakes. So give us an example of somebody who really put their foot in it.

Louis Perron:

Well, I think typical mistakes is, for example, candidates who think they can do their surveys on their own and they hire students who do it and they tell them that they’re doing great and everybody loves them and they end up losing badly. I think another typical mistake is to not have a clear organization and discipline. Sometimes I ask the client like, “Who is running your campaign?” And he doesn’t know the answer, or there are seven people who think they’re wanting the campaign. Or somebody’s running the campaign, but it’s really… Actually he’s running it himself or a family member. So those campaigns usually end in chaos. Those are typical beginning mistakes.

Patrick Daly:

Yeah. Now, as I’ve heard you point out several times yourself that the world is changing at great pace and that pace of change seems to be picking up. And I think one of the ways that the world is changing is the greater exposure of, say, business leaders to public opinion and scrutiny. So in what ways do you think a CEO’s role is similar or different to that of a political leader nowadays? And what can business people learn from politicians?

Louis Perron:

Well, I think one thing that they can learn is that in elections just everything is geared towards election day. So it’s much more win or lose, the dynamics and especially the timing is very, very different. We need to be much more aggressive in showing contrast with our opponents because it’s really win or lose. If you have a mark chair of 45%, you’re a rich man, [inaudible 00:09:39] booming business with 45% in a… Winner take it all system. You’re in the desert for four or five years. So I think that’s one thing that CEOs and businesses can definitely learn from politics, also to listen to public opinion, I think. And I think more and more companies sort of campaign for a better world instead of really selling their product. And I think that’s part of… That’s a consequence of it.

Speaker 3:

93.9 Dublin South FM.

Patrick Daly:

I’ve heard you talk as well about how contrary to some expert opinions that political campaigns really do matter and the results of elections are becoming ever more difficult to predict. And we’ve seen some spectacular examples of that in recent years with the polls getting it very wrong. So what do you think is going on here and why is this happening now in your opinion? That one, it’s getting more difficult to predict, and two, the polls are just not working.

Louis Perron:

Well, there’s a whole lot going on. I don’t think that the statistics no longer applies. So in a sense, market research is still a very powerful tool, but the behavior of people has changed dramatically. Now, I mean the way they consume the media has changed dramatically. The media situation, the context in which campaigns and opinion formation debates take place really has changed a lot. I mean, I’ve been teaching a class in political marketing for more than 10 years, and it’s always a good opportunity to reflect on how the environment has changed. And yes, it has changed dramatically. I mean now people… In those 10 years. Now people have a plethora of news outlets to listen to. They listen to podcasts from abroad, from different countries. People watch news practically nonstop.

The cycle is practically nonstop. So yes, at the same time, people increasingly live in their bubble. We used to pick and choose the news that we’re interested in. And I think one of the things that is changing is that people increasingly only are served the news that they agree with and they’re interested in, like algorithms make sure we just don’t see the rest. I mean, I’ve had a client in the UK and he told me that he doesn’t know any single person who voted for Brexit, yet the majority of the country-

Patrick Daly:

You know What’s happening in the UK though? It’s getting more and more difficult to find people who admit that they supported it.

Louis Perron:

Yeah, well… Yes. So it was a while ago, but still. So now this also has an important impact, of course, on opinion polls. To look at the really bad example is the U.S., every election they’re wrong. After every election, [inaudible 00:12:53] promised that now they’ve found an even better algorithm, their weighing is even more accurate now, they’ve learned the lessons, and boom, they screw up again. I mean, they screwed up in 16, in 18, in 20, in 22. They’ll promise us that everything’s better in 24. I actually, when I work in… And I do a lot of work in Asian countries, we do it the old-fashioned, slowest most expensive way, house to house. Our surveys are done in person, house to house, has many disadvantages, but you know what, it’s by far the most accurate way of doing a research.

Patrick Daly:

Excellent. Interesting. So another phenomenon that we’ve seen across the world is this increased political polarization, emergence of parties and groups with extreme views both on the left and the right. And I guess some of these people potentially must be potential clients. So are you kind of agnostic and dispassionate about who your clients are or do you have red lines or do you actually seek to work with clients whose political positions align with your own more or less?

Louis Perron:

Well, I have like everybody else, I think, in the business, I have limits to what I do now that my career is a bit more advanced and it’s going reasonably well. I’m also in a position where I can choose. I mean, when I was younger, I started out… I was 27, I said, “I’m a political consultant.” Everybody’s like laughing. Like a political consultant, you imagine an old man with gray hair, you don’t imagine a kid just out of grad school. So no, I’m in a position where I can choose more. Yeah. But about polarization, let’s also not forget the political demand here. I mean, because politicians reply to the political demand. And right now, I don’t see much demand for consensus. So again, it has to do with how people consume news. I think social media honestly hasn’t helped in that respect. But again, if people would ask for consensus, politicians would give you consensus. So the public is not innocent in the polarization.

Patrick Daly:

So are politicians leaders or followers or were they ever leaders or is it they used to be leaders and now they’re followers?

Louis Perron:

Ideally, it’s a combination and you would be one step ahead of public demand, knowing public demand, taking it into consideration, but being one step ahead, you can’t be five steps ahead because then there’s a disconnect. I wouldn’t advise to just simply copy paste public opinion, but I think in a marketing perspective, political marketing perspective ideally, politicians would at least try to understand what voters think and feel and know. And by the way, I often work with qualitative public opinion research, focus group discussions, which I think are really a great, great tool to feel the electorate. And I think public opinion research has a lot to do with statistics, but also with the art and science of listening to people.

Patrick Daly:

And so… Well, you did kind of allude to it there that politicians are serving a polarization because in a way that’s what people want. But what is your view on the causes and drivers of this increased polarization? Do you think it’s part of a pendulum cycle that will swing back in time? Or is it something more permanent that maybe we should be concerned about?

Louis Perron:

I think it’s both. It has to do with people more and more living an individual life. I think there’s less, how to say, belonging to social demographic groups, people living an international life. It has a lot to do with the media, with social media. It’s a great tool to mobilize in an election, but nobody goes online to change his mind or her mind. I mean, people go online to like, to express their feeling, their anger. Nobody goes online to get an informed, balanced information and change their minds. So there are many things going on. And I think there was just a few weeks ago, there was an election in 3, 4, 5 countries the same day, and all of them were basically a tie. I mean Israel, if I were not mistaken, was really close.

Patrick Daly:

Brazil was another one, wasn’t it?

Louis Perron:

Brazil, which is basically a tie. I mean, Bulgaria, I think they’re voted several times in a row. And I mean, hey, even in the U.S., when it was all said and done, I think 42,000 people in three states really made a difference. I mean, yeah, this said, I think probably sooner or later there will be a demand for consensus and for getting things done. Maybe the pandemic was the first step in that that people saw, “It’s not so much about somebody who can really express my anger or my feelings all that well or can give tough rhetoric, but somebody who delivers.”

Patrick Daly:

Yeah. So over the next five, maybe 10 years, what do you think will be two or three of the big political issues in Europe, let’s say? We’ll, limited to Europe.

Louis Perron:

Policy wise?

Patrick Daly:

Yeah.

Louis Perron:

Well, I think climate change, the environment will stay with us. Obviously, geopolitical situation, the war in Ukraine and all its effects on energy, on the economy, I think number two. And then number three, probably migration, immigration, asylum, seems to be an evergreen. So those three issues I think will keep us busy and affect elections.

Patrick Daly:

And then as we come into the last few minutes of our conversation here, so outside of work, when you’re not thinking about politics, although I know it seems to be your hobby as well as your work, what do you like to do in the way of hobbies and other interests?

Louis Perron:

Well, it actually has changed since the pandemic. I mean, some of my friends, they tell me that they’re so happy to have their old life back now that the pandemic is over. And every time somebody tells me that, I notice how this is different for me, actually. There are many things I don’t want to do the way I used to do it before. While I still travel a lot, I just really enjoy to go for a walk in the forest. I mean, we have really great nature in Switzerland and I really appreciate it more than before the pandemic.

Patrick Daly:

Yeah, I was actually in Zurich very recently and we took the train from the Zurich Hauptbahnhof to Saint Anton in Austria, and we went down by the lakes, and all the lakes and the mountains all the way down there, it’s absolutely stunning. Very beautiful.

Louis Perron:

Yeah, isn’t it? Right. Next time you call me, you’ll let me know.

Patrick Daly:

I will. I will.

Louis Perron:

And we have great wellness. I mean, if you like wellness, I think it’s probably some of the best in Switzerland. So –

Patrick Daly:

Excellent.

Louis Perron:

I’ll show you around next time.

Patrick Daly:

Okay. I look forward to it. Are you listening to anything or reading anything lately that you recommend, that you find inspiring that you’d recommend to listeners?

Louis Perron:

Well, political, I’m reading Maggie Haberman’s biography about Donald Trump, which is just really incredibly well researched and written. I would highly recommend it to any political or journalist actually. I like Alan Weiss books, especially the elder ones where we met. Right?

Patrick Daly:

Right. Right.

Louis Perron:

I think I learned a great deal about consulting from him so… Especially the elder ones I found really enriching.

Patrick Daly:

Yeah. So most of his books, there’s a series of books called Million Dollar Consulting, Million Dollar Referrals, Million Dollar Speaking, and so on. So under the Million Dollar logo you’ll… Or the Million Dollar Brand, you’ll find lots of his writing. So yeah, those books are very valuable, particularly for anybody who is in consultancy or looking to get into consultancy or even other professional services. So where can people find more about Perron Campaigns and the services that you provide?

Louis Perron:

Well, you could get weekly posts on my blog, campaignanalysis.com, where I write about elections, crisis communication, market research, all those topics. Political marketing. I tweet daily @dr_perron takeaways about elections, I post regularly on LinkedIn, so…

Patrick Daly:

Excellent. And your blog, you write your blog in English or in German?

Louis Perron:

campaignanalysis.com is English, and there’s a German one, [foreign language 00:22:41].

Patrick Daly:

Okay. Well, excellent. Louis, it’s been absolute pleasure and thank you for being here with us today.

Louis Perron:

Well, thank you for having me.

Patrick Daly:

Thank you again. Thanks also to our listeners for tuning in again today and be aware that if you enjoyed this episode, you can find a full series of well over 100 episodes of Interlinks on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Acast and other major podcast platforms. So until next time, keep well and stay safe.

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Patrick Daly Interlinks Podcast

Interlinks is a programme about the connections, relationships and supply chains, that underpin the globalisation of our modern world.

In each programme, we interview people from around the world including entrepreneurs, executives, academics, diplomats and politicians to get their unique perspective on globalisation as it has affected them both personally and professionally.

There is a little bit of history, a dash of economics, a sprinkling of business and an overlay of personal experience both from me and from my interviewees from around the world.

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