Steve CaplanSteve Caplan

The post-game analysis is already in full effect in light of the recent comedy of errors wherein our federal government shutdown for — gasp! — an entire weekend. Many on the right are hyperventilating about a “stunning victory,” while Democrats are gathering their usual circular firing squad and playing the blame game.

Many are left wondering: “what does this mean in the long run?”

Let’s be clear: there are very real human implications for ignoring a fix on DACA, but from a purely communications standpoint the real answer may be “not much.” Yes, polling numbers will fluctuate and the 24-hour news channels will heatedly debate winners and losers, but if we’ve learned anything in the past year it’s this: what’s on the top of the news scroll today may find itself buried deep in the prefrontal cortex tomorrow. (Hat tip to Google Search. My memory isn’t what it used to be.)

For some reason this got me thinking about a skit from “Saturday Night Live” a few years back titled “Short Term Memory Loss Theater.” In it, Bill Hader played a doctor working with a group of actors suffering from short-term memory loss. He claimed that through his “revolutionary therapeutic technique” the performers would never forget a single word. Needless to say, it doesn’t go as planned.

So, what does all this short-term thinking mean for strategic communications and marketing? More than ever, communicators need to focus on developing a strong and consistent message, and then execute it relentlessly across all channels. That’s not to say that developing a rapid response capability is unimportant. But chasing the dragon of an ever-changing news cycle is a fool’s errand.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning a communications strategy in an era of short-term memory loss.

Find your message and stick to it. Whether launching a winning political campaign or building a brand, uncovering your single most important message is at the core of any successful effort. Staying with it — even in the face of rapidly shifting winds — is more important than ever.

Play the long game. Public opinion, the number of “likes” you or your brand gets on Instagram, or sales revenue you achieve, will ebb and flow over time. Don’t let that get in the way of a long-term plan that gets your message out to your target audience regardless of temporary distractions.

Keep your head on a swivel. Anyone that’s played sports has heard it before: be aware of your surroundings at all times so you don’t get crushed. In this warp-speed media environment communicators and their clients must stay aware of incoming threats and challenges while still keeping their eye on the goal line.

Whether it’s business or politics, we live in a short-attention span world. To connect with customers, clients or constituents it’s essential to find a clearly articulated voice and message, deliver your story in a compelling and creative way and execute it relentlessly. Doing so will move customers or constituents from being bit players in “short term memory loss theater” to long-term advocates, supporters and champions.


Steve Caplan is founder and principal strategist at Message, a strategic communications and marketing firm based in Hollywood.