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Public Opinion Ignored

When Public Opinion is Ignored

It wasn’t just the allegations of the sex scandal and murder that lost our client the election; it was the fact that he wouldn’t believe the survey results.

We had been retained to conduct surveys for a client that was running for the office of Chairman of the Board of Supervisors of a large county in East Texas – a position of considerable power in that next of the woods.

Christopher Richards had held this position for two terms and then retired to his pecan orchard and his Wall Street Journal. He had kept his finers in local politics and in so doing had become increasingly upset with the ongoing actions of the Board, and particularly its current Chairman – one Clark Rickey.

Another client recommended us, and, while we don’t do a great deal of political survey work, uncovering voter’s gut-level attitudes and opinions about these candidates was going to be crucial to the race.

Our client, a political supporter of Mr. Richards, convinced him that nobody could get into the mind of these voters like On Target. In this, he was right.

And that is exactly what we did.

But, in doing so, we found that a significant number of voters still had our man positioned with the most notorious criminal case the county had ever seen.

The story went like this.

Victor Carnucci was an ex-convict with a Clark Gable smile. After being paroled from Brooks County Detention Center, he had hired on as a field hand at a small cattle ranch in Southeast Texas. Carnucci and a woman named Maryann Fitzgerald were caught by a local deputy sheriff loading several rare paintings into the back of a moving van at 3:00 in the morning.

The home, in fact, belonged to Fitzgerald and her husband, a prominent local businessman. Mrs. Fitzgerald claimed she was relocating some personal items to a storage warehouse in town and that Mr. Carrnuci was assisting her. But the lateness of the hour prompted Deputy Manfred Hackelman to engage in a cursory inspection of the property, where he found the hapless Mr. Fitzgerald face down on the back patio with a rusty pair of hedge clippers buried in the back of his neck.


The story rolled out quickly. Carnucci and Maryann Fitzgerald, a busty blonde and former beauty queen, had been having a lurid affair behind the back of Mr. Fitzgerald, the owner of a small chain of banks and a member of every civic organization in East Texas.

In what seemed a bizarre series of accusations, Carnucci claimed that Christopher Richards, while Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, had masterminded the theft of Fitzgerald’s paintings and it was he who was going to fence them.

It was a desperate allegation on Carnucci’s part, for which he had no evidence whatsoever. But Richard’s had earlier made a keen enemy out of the local District Attorney by slashing what he referred to in the media as, “ the DA’s gluttonous budget”, and was promptly indicted by the grand jury.

The media turned to their time-honored agenda of journalistic pornography and sprayed the entire state with the sordid details daily.

However, as is often the case, the Carnucci–Fitzgerald alliance shattered when Fitzgerald turned state’s evidence,  took a plea deal and turned on Carnucci. Carnucci eventually confessed to the crime and admitted in open court that Richards had not been involved in any way.

Fully vindicated, Richards retired the following year. And that would normally have ended the story.

But Christopher Richards could not leave well enough alone. He decided to seek re-election to his former position.

All of which brings us to our survey work and the power of first impressions. What we found was that a significant number of prospective voters still positioned Richards with the robbery and murder.

Some didn’t even recall that he was vindicated, while others vaguely remembered the vindication but his involvement in the affair is what seemed foremost in their mind.

Christopher Richards had a PR problem.

We had conducted the surveys early enough in the race that there was still time to turn it around. It wouldn’t be easy, but it could be done. After the trial, Richards had dug further into the DA’s budget and found hundreds of thousands of dollars in highly questionable expenditures.

We presented our findings to Richards, along with a campaign strategy that included a PR program to neutralize any remaining attention on the trial as well as the recommendation to go on the offense and get out the information about Richard’s post-scandal exposure of the DA’s office. This would have turned positioned Richards as a reform minded fiscal conservative who had saved the county hundreds of thousands.

Richard’s response? He said that he had been fully vindicated at the trial and that there was no reason to have to address it.

When we tried to present the survey results a second time with suggestions to handle the residual black PR, Richard’s got angry.

I take no pleasure in saying that he lost the election badly. My point here is one that would seem all too obvious; if you are going to conduct surveys for the purpose of creating a message and a position for your product, or for yourself, for crying out loud, use the results.

I had the corporate CEO of one of the leading brands in the country, turn his nose up at survey results because he “knew better,” only to later stub his marketing toe and have to change the direction of his advertising campaign after spending precious ad dollars.

On the other hand, the reverse is also true, which always floats our boat:

“The survey of business travelers and corporate travel planners that your company did for us really ‘peeled the onion’ on what these publics need and want from a hotel in the way of technology. In addition, the positioning that grew out of your research was nothing short of stellar! We now have a strategically researched, laser-like position that will dramatically assist us in rolling out our new brand.”

JD President & COO

So whether you are running for office or building a company,  you should always find out what your prospects need and want and then USE the results in your marketing efforts.

This saves you from the fate of Christopher Richards and gives you the tools to drive your brand into the mind of your prospects and increase your sales and income.

We know this works, because at On Target, we conduct surveys that drive sales.




*As they used to say on Dragnet, “the story you are about to see is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” And that is what has occurred with this story. We did conduct survey for such a client; the circumstances were essentially as presented. However, we changed the names of the people involved and the locations in order to tell you the story.