Tusk used a similar strategy when he started Tusk Strategy, his consulting firm which focused on companies with regulatory and political challenges and ran “big, complex multijurisdicational campaigns for people with a lot of money and a lot at stake.” He knew that this type of firm didn’t exist, which was good because:
It was a great business model in that I’d found a niche no one else had, and as long as some clients were willing to pay the fee (starting at $25,000), I could create the market. It was my model, based on my experiences, my skills, and my interests.
This allowed Tusk to operate without worrying about competitors. Running large campaigns was a unique skillset with high barriers to entry. It meant that Tusk’s only competitor was himself.
This strategy can be scaled up from individuals to companies. A great example in the book is how Uber fought Mayor Bill de Blasio. De Blasio wanted to make sure his donors in the taxi industry supported him for future campaigns, so he proposed legislation which would effectively kill Uber in NYC. While Uber did pursue some of the tactics that Tusk had mastered through other experiences, they also mobilized their customer base in a way that only they could:
The Uber app in New York City is opened hundreds of thousands of times every day. And when Kaitlin Durkosh on the Uber New York team had the brilliant idea of making “de Blasio” one of the options on the app (next to Uber Black, UberX, UberXL, etc.), we had a way to capture people and mobilize them. If you chose the de Blasio option, you were told there was a twenty-five-minute wait time, we explained the problem, and then asked people to email and tweet at their council members to tell them to oppose the bill. In a week, over 250,000 did.
Uber and Tusk won the fight in no small part because of this clever tactic. Talk about leveraging your personal monopoly towards accomplishing an important goal!
Align your goals with others
Politics is difficult. Optics matter a lot and politicians can’t always do what they think is right. They need to appeal to their base. This is also true in non-political organizations. In order to get what you want, you should think about how you can make others look better while accomplishing your goals.
In The Fixer, Tusk recounts the 2009 campaign by Obama and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, called Race to the Top, an $8 billion program that was made available to states that could implement a host of educational reforms, including innovations around charter schools. The most innovative states would win grants worth millions of dollars. As Tusk explains,
Eight billion dollars is a pittance compared to the amount of money spent on schools across the country every year. If it were handed out to the states, half of them wouldn’t even notice. But once it became a competition, everything changed. By definition, politics is a competitive business, filled with competitive people, and once it became about winning, and losing, every politician wanted to win. This is exactly what Obama and Duncan were counting on. All of a sudden, states were passing major reforms to their laws around helping charter schools.
Tusk is right that politics is competitive. But what’s even more important is that a particular Governor of a state would be seen to be winning over others. That’s important for re-election campaigns. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Jeff Bezos used the same tactic for his HQ2 proposal. Amazon got amazing tax breaks in a race to the bottom between cities.