People 07 July 2017
At this point, my life could easily be in shambles. Maybe it should be.
The hand we’re dealt
We’re all dealt a hand in life. Sometimes, we fall into things by chance, sometimes it’s choices we make, and sometimes it’s both.
Let me start by taking you back three decades. I was 25 years old, just starting out, living in Miami Beach, and managing an apartment complex. I tried to help a homeless man by letting him live rent-free in one of the units in exchange for him painting and doing maintenance work. But one day, out of the blue, he turned on me and attacked me, stabbing me 21 times. I was left for dead. I had more than 200 stitches all over my body and my left fingers were nearly cut off. Doctors didn’t expect I would live, let alone fully recover, but that’s what happened. I was released from the hospital after eight days and went right back to managing properties on Miami Beach.
Resiliency is something I believe in deeply. It’s part of who I am, and it’s who I’ve always been but for much of my past, I’ve struggled. I came from a difficult family life and was a high school dropout. I was voted most likely not to succeed. Then, I became pregnant at 31, and raised my son as a single mom. I knew I had to make my life a success.
It’s a ‘man’s world’
Overcoming obstacles became a theme in my life as I entered a male-dominated profession for the first time in the 80’s: recreational vehicle (RV) sales in Davie, FL. The industry was and is virtually all men. It’s a boys’ club in every sense of the word. I remember showing up at one of my first big RV association meetings in my ponytail, makeup, and new business ideas. One guy told me, “little girl, you need to go home and bake cookies. This is no place for you.”
Just you wait, I remember thinking. I had to prove them all wrong.
I kept my business open later and on more days than my competitors. I put an emphasis on building relationships and customer service. And it worked; many of my competitors ended up closing down while my business grew. Things were very good.
But over the years, I had to overcome other hurdles, like restarting my business twice for different reasons and nearly went bankrupt at one point. Now, as the CEO of RV Sales of Broward, I’m in my 31st year in the industry and business has never been better. The RV industry has seen a spike in sales the last couple of years as “glamping” has become so popular and millennials are now one of the largest customer bases I have. We’re seeing record growth and a shift in the demographic. I’m still one of the only female CEOs in the industry in the country, and that’s very rewarding for me. But as the industry continues to evolve, I think we’ll start seeing more women in roles like mine. A good percentage of RV-buyers these days are females and they’re often looking to buy or rent from another woman who can offer an alternative perspective when it comes to travel on the road.
As far as getting into the RV business as woman, you need to be confident and savvy. And that all starts with passion: a passion for travel, exploration, and the freedom of the open road. After that, it’s about business-smarts and knowing what your customer is thinking. Put yourself in their shoes.
What questions would you have? What would you want to know? Then, you need to know your product and talk about it in a way that’s informational but not “sales-y.” Your goal is to help a customer understand they’re not simply buying or renting an RV. They’re about to take on a whole new journey.
Keep looking up
One of my biggest passions these days is sharing my story and trying to encourage others, particularly women, to never give up. I even wrote a book about my life called Unstoppable! Surviving is Just the Beginning. We all fall on hard times and sometimes don’t make the best decisions. It happens, but what really matters is how we respond. Get back up and try again.
The odds weren’t really in my favor. But I never believed in odds anyway.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.