Scott Stringer Makes “Comptroll-ing” Cool, Straight up.

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Sarah Hopkins

Due to the overly transparent, accessible nature of today’s media, we often watch good guys struggle to gain a well-deserved, positive presence among a rising pool of “bad boys” famous for unacceptable actions, particularly in politics. But good guys can still spread better messages… all it takes is a little street cred with Millennials.

So, what you do get when you take good guy candidate Scott Stringer and pit him against bad boy, Eliot Spitzer in a race for the unglamorous role of city comptroller? The answer is an audience of New York’s young, trendy (and broke,) gathering to tweet pictures of New York’s young, trendy, and not-so-broke… both groups supporting Stringer.1866736

Until last month, Stringer’s record of passionate leadership and devotion as New York’s Manhattan Borough President made him the favorite. However, the race for comptroller became more complicated with the last minute ballot registration of Spitzer. But, Stringer won’t let Spitzer snag the title he deserves… at least not without a fair fight, and an army of hipsters.

I attended a campaign rally last Tuesday for Stringer titled, “Young New York for Scott Stringer.” It was a casual-chic gathering of Millennials, at a roof top cocktail party hoping to snap Instagrams of various young New York celebrity supporters, including Lena Dunham. “No one ever thought municipal finance could be sexy!” he told the audience. (But on this night, it was super sexy indeed.)

In her speech, Lena Dunham outlined financial and social hardships that young New Yorkers face, relating them to the comptroller’s responsibilities. Ms. Dunham hooked listeners by confessing, that after meeting Stringer for the first time, she Googled the word comptroller. The audience caught on quickly, and it was on to the next question: How can this comptroller hopeful help us in the big city?

Dunham had answers in the form of witty anecdotes, and Stringer had sincere, good-guy evidence to back them up (#Teamwork.) Addressing the City’s need for a rent stabilization plan that Stringer promises to provide, Dunham announced the population faces an inevitable threat of losing its recent college graduates to more affordable cities. “We can’t have our generation’s Patti Smith moving to Tampa!” She said. Amen.

Stringer took a chance by allowing Dunham to slip a few swear-words and provocative jokes into her speech, but his tactic to gain publicity seems successful and sincere. For instance, Stringer’s team was able to define and reach stylish, resourceful communities in the fashion-blogosphere by informing them of his plans to protect the garment district, gaining prominent supporters such as  Leandra Medine of The Man Repeller Blog, and fashion photographer Terry Richardson.

Politicians have something to learn from Stringer: Don’t forget the young people, for they are the ones who will spearhead the launch of your message, free of charge. If you give an energetic/tech-savvy/media-injected audience something fresh, current, and cool to talk about, you’ll gain a cult of new best friends with iPhones, who are willing to defend your honor in the face of an opponent who has to dig through skeletons in his closet to find a clean shirt.

The PR lesson: To earn the eyes and ears of Generation Y, appoint Millennial figureheads to translate the message to their audience. This method has been important in Stringer’s campaign, while also showing his dedication to become an accessible and relatable leader to the City’s diverse population.
“It is cool to be in a comptroller’s campaign now,” said Stringer to the Wall Street Journal. “That has never happened in the history of the United States, I recognize that.”

Congrats Stringer, you’re dubbing comptroller the hippest role in city government, a title you def’ deserve.

7 thoughts on “Scott Stringer Makes “Comptroll-ing” Cool, Straight up.

    • Politicians should also take a lesson from the Cronut:

      “The Cronut is an unstoppable force with a momentum all its own, and only a fool would try to stand in its way.”

  1. These are interesting things to think about, Jason, and certainly not overlooked. I wrote about Stringer’s campaign for city comptroller because this is a race that most likely would not have required as much focus on youth activism and social media campaigning were it not for Eliot Spitzer’s ballot registration. In regards to Lena Dunham’s voting record, I have read that she is not a registered democrat, and thus unable to vote in the Democratic primary. You’re also probably correct that many of the event’s young attendees are unlikely to vote in the primary, or at all. However, if celebrities that share her level of “clout” among Millennials donate their time and attach their name to this campaign, it may give Stringer a publicity push he needs to stand out next to his opponent, who is a figure of national fame. Youth activism won’t win this race for Stringer, but it’s never a bad move – take Obama’s youth voter record in 2008 as an example.

    In my opinion, this comment Stringer made to New York Magazine sums it up perfectly: “Everyone gravitates to the football star, right? I’ve gotta make wonk sexy.” Millennials “buy” different things, both figuratively and literally. Brands are forced to identify and communicate different buzzwords to them than other sections of the population. As a cultural group, Gen Y is said to care significantly about quality and “conscious shopping,” a mindset which can likely also be applied to political candidates. For instance, the audience members who attended this event were probably more likely to spend $6 on a local pressed juice and like the brand on Facebook than they were to spend $2 on a can of Minute Maid from the vending machine. A similar concept applied for the youth turnout at this event – young adults were willing to shell out $50 for a ticket to attend (even if no additional donation was made,) and subsequently generate a social media presence surrounding it (even if for superficial reasons.)

    Obviously Stringer can’t afford to focus exclusively (or expensively) on this audience during his campaign, but it is a smart move to help push his name to the top of the media agenda (and not just because he is Spitzer’s opponent.)

    Who knows? Maybe a bingo night could attract a young trendy following and some paparazzi!

  2. Good post, Sarah. But, there is one major problem (for both politicians and brands): millennials, in general, have no money, and they are the demographic that is least likely to vote. There is only one thing you can count on in electoral politics, and that is young people will not show up at the polls. Take one of his most vocal and famous supporters, Lena Dunham, as an example. She barely (and this is still in question) voted in the 2012 Presidential election (she voted in the 2008 general election, but not in the 2004 general election) after filming her very popular ad supporting President Obama. And her voting records show that she has never voted in a local (New York City) primary or election, despite being a life-long New York City resident.

    I agree that millennials will share your message (brand or political) better than most demographics, but the fact remains that they won’t buy and they won’t vote. So, it is a risky strategy for Stringer and brands to devote too much attention and $$$$ to millennials. You may grab some nice headlines, but it probably won’t boost your bottom line or get you elected. Stringer may want to consider bingo night at the 92nd Street Y instead…

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  4. This is great. Stringer’s also smart enough to realize that you don’t have to have deep pockets to go to the polls and cast your ballet. The fact that he’s talking about rent stabilization with this audience is oh-so-smart, too. I’m not going to lie, I’m a fan of the Spitzer comeback. He clearly paid a lot of money for that savvy ad campaign – and it’s darn good – but Stringer’s ability to capture Gen Y and leverage their smartphones may just prove that he’s the savvier of the two.

    • I definitely agree, Erin. It’s a smart political move to target young people by providing solutions to problems that effect them on an immediate, personal level (e.g. outrageous rent!) There is obviously a gap in campaign budget between the two candidates, but the way I see it, the hope is that Stringer’s young following can help give him the publicity boost he needs to reach higher sources of funding. Hopefully this will also encourage young people who are registered in a political party to come out and vote in the primary election!