As far as I know, John McCain has never sold for a living. Though you could argue that insofar as he’s a politician, he’s never done anything else.
Whether or not you believe all politicians are salespeople, some do it differently than others. McCain “sells” in a particular way.
It’s an approach to selling that most salespeople instinctively avoid, but that many of the best salespeople have learned to seek. It’s an approach Hillary Clinton is belatedly coming to recognize.
It’s simple: be transparent.
As Howard Kurtz writes in Accessibility Opens Doors to McCain in the Washington Post,
Reporters rarely quote his aides because the man himself is available to react to just about everything. And that "infinite" access, says Boston Globe correspondent Sasha Issenberg, helps the Arizona senator.
"He’s pretty good road-trip company," Issenberg says. "The guy stays up on sports, movies and what’s in the news. I’ve had the ability to have extensive conversations with him — often Socratic dialogues — about the issues. He’s a richer candidate in stories written about him than other candidates are in stories written about them."
How candidates treat reporters shouldn’t matter in the coverage, but it does.
William Kristol, writing an ope-ed for the NY Times called Thoroughly Unmodern McCain, makes a similar point:
John McCain is a not-so-modern type. One might call him a neo-Victorian — rigid, self-righteous and moralizing, but (or rather and) manly, courageous and principled.
Maybe a dose of this type of neo-Victorianism is what the 21st century needs. A fair number of Republican and independent voters seem to think so, if one can infer as much from their support of McCain at the polls. But, amazingly, a neo-Victorian straightforwardness might also turn out to be strategically smart.
McCain has been the only Republican candidate who hasn’t tried to out-think the process. Perhaps out of sheer necessity, after his campaign imploded last summer, he simply picked himself up and made his case to the voters in the various states.
Meanwhile, the other G.O.P. candidates are creatures of our modern age of analysis and meta-analysis, and their campaigns have sometimes been too clever by half.
There’s a reason transparency works: and a lesson for those would would fake it.
The reason transparency works is it reveals motives. Unlike appeals to qualifications, credentials, experience, testimonials, track records and competence—transparency speaks to intent.
If we see someone as being transparent, then nagging questions about motive disappear. We no longer speculate about what’s in it for him, what’s the hidden meaning, why’d he say that, is he lying, and so on. We accept the person at face value for what they say, even if—sometimes, particularly if—what they say reflects imperfection. That works in sales, and in politics.
And here’s the lesson for those would would fake transparency: you had better be really, really good at it, because, if you are caught faking transparency—all bets are off. There’s virtually no recovery from being found out intentionally lying about being truthful.
The best way to be transparent about your motives? To be sure your motives are clean in the first place. We don’t like someone who’s being transparent in order to gain something (like the Presidency). We want transparency as an end in itself—a principle, a value, not a means to end.
There was a serious moment when BBC correspondent Justin Webb asked why McCain kept bringing up global warming — not a popular cause with many Republicans, particularly in Michigan, where resistance to fuel-efficiency standards is strong.
"You’ve got to do what you know is right," McCain replied.
"You could lose as a result," Webb said.
"There’s a lot worse things than losing in life," the former POW said.
Transparency sells. The “trick” to using it is to live your life in a way you don’t mind being exposed.
Then just be who you are.