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David Plouffe, the architect of President Barack Obama’s two presidential campaigns, shares the crucial elements to achieving effective results in the face of momentous shifts in politics and business.
A pioneering force of innovation in politics, technology, and grassroots leadership, David Plouffe has distinguished himself as a proven field general and idea generator.
As Senior Advisor to President Obama, he stood at the center of the debate on key issues now facing our country – from tax and entitlement reform to immigration reform and foreign policy challenges. Combined with his pathbreaking work at Uber, and policy and advocacy efforts at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, he is a transcending force at the intersection of politics, policy, and business.
Plouffe began his career working on a Senate primary campaign for a Delaware democrat. In the years since, he’s become a veteran of congressional, gubernatorial, and presidential campaigns.
Over his extensive career, Plouffe developed proven strategies to rally people around common causes. So, when Senator Barack Obama asked him to run his 2008 presidential campaign, he recognized his chance to create the kind of campaign he idealized. The resulting efforts forever changed the face of politics.
Of that campaign, Plouffe says it was like "creating a start-up organization at warp speed." He honed in on grassroots movements – refocusing on involving people at the local level and reenergizing the core of the country. He drove people to organize by emphasizing the fundamentals of America, and what it means to be a democracy by the people, for the people.
His unprecedented approach to reach voters by leveraging technology and big data resulted in the election of America’s first African-American president. By harnessing the power of the Internet to spark a grassroots movement, he changed the landscape of campaigns to come.
When reflecting on his time with Obama, Plouffe says, “In signing up to work for this political long shot from Chicago, we had gained a unique perch from which to watch American history unfold.”
Plouffe’s experience running a well-oiled campaign machine makes him an undeniable authority on organizational structure. By setting up a clear chain of command, and a framework that empowers individuals, it assured the campaign ran seamlessly and smoothly. His playbook for success is revealed in his book The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory, a New York Times bestseller. In his podcast, “Campaign HQ,” Plouffe speaks with campaign managers, the state directors, the field organizers on the ground — the people living and breathing the 2020 presidential campaign — to dig into the methods of our current candidates. Together, they uncover the successes and failures of these leaders in their pathway to securing the ultimate prize: the American presidency.
Following his campaign work, Plouffe was called into the business world to share his unique approach and expertise. In 2014, Uber brought him in to manage all global policy and political activities, communications, and branding. The company’s leaders looked to him as a strategic partner on all matters, as the ride-sharing giant grew its presence around the world. Under his leadership, the first ridesharing regulations in the world were established, leading to over 200 different cities enacting ride-sharing friendly regulations during his tenure. Plouffe also led the effort to reframe how policymakers and the public understood Uber’s drivers and the debate around them. He oversaw a first-of-its-kind academic study that created headlines around the world, capturing that the vast majority of Uber’s drivers were driving under 10 hours a week, using the platform to top up income.
Later, in 2017, Plouffe was asked to join the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative's mission to advance human potential and promote equal opportunity – utilizing great storytelling, smart policy engagement, and mobilization and innovation as key tools. He continues his work there today where he serves as a strategist in residence, seeking to break through systemic barriers and solve real-world challenges – in areas like criminal justice, immigration, and housing.
No matter the role, Plouffe is known for thinking beyond the conventional. With his tenacious, methodical, and proven methods, he knows the essential ingredients to crafting a team built for success.
"As a leader, the thing I'm most interested in is making decision-making uneventful," he says.
By this, Plouffe means that every decision should be an easy yes or no. And, according to him, it starts with organizations educating their people on what the clear path to success looks like. When this approach is activated, actions and decisions either support a business’s strategy and message, or they don't – making the clear choice feel obvious. Even if people ultimately disagree with the decision, Plouffe says, they understand that the answer isn’t based on subjectivity.
Plouffe’s array of accomplishments demonstrate his profound ability to bridge the gap between dreaming and achieving. He shows others how doing what you believe in, taking a chance, betting on the right people, and having high ideals can produce a winning combination.
With his unassuming style, Plouffe communicates motivated and innovative solutions pertinent to any organization seeking to be at the forefront of change in their industry. Drawing people in with rapid-fire, detail-oriented, and visceral stories from the ground, he shares his playbook for success when facing overwhelming and seemingly insurmountable odds.
As a pioneering force in innovative leadership, David Plouffe knows how to transform a movement into a well-oiled machine. His secret? Make decision-making uneventful by leaning on a clear playbook for success.
Being on the front lines of innovation in politics, business, and now philanthropy, Plouffe knows how to use breakthrough technologies to make smarter decisions about the future. Some refer to these game-changing ideas as "disruptive innovation." He calls it: "simple progress."
According to Plouffe, organizing President Obama’s first presidential campaign was like “creating a start-up organization at warp speed.” With a winning strategy, Plouffe reengaged people in the election process and revitalized excitement in the core of America.
Plouffe is known for thinking beyond the conventional. He credits the success of Obama’s campaign to their strategy of being bold and going against the grain, even when it meant standing alone. "Whenever we embraced risk, we were rewarded – a lesson that eventually became a touchstone when making hard decisions," he says.
2008 Obama Campaign Manager David Plouffe addresses the McKell Institute
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David Plouffe's Speech Topics
Campaigning during COVID
This is the first Presidential election held during a pandemic. And the first pandemic occurring with social media as the dominant way we communicate.
- What does the electoral pathway college look like for Biden and Trump?
- Who is helped or hurt by in person campaigning and organizing being severely restricted?
- Which messages are working with which swing voters?
- Will young voters who do nothing by mail, vote by that method?
- How will the debates shape the race?
- And when will we know who won and will that outcome be challenged?
David Plouffe was the architect of Barack Obama’s two Presidential campaigns and has strong insight on all the above questions and more. He hosts the must-listen-to podcast Campaign HQ, where his guests are all players on the front lines of this election and are seeing research daily from the battleground states, providing a window into this historic election as it unfolds.
Having served at the most senior levels of the Congressional and Executive Branches, he also can provide guidance on what the state of play may be in Washington in 2021.
Breaking Down the 2020 Election’s Candidates and Campaign Strategies
Millions of Americans are following the current presidential race extraordinarily closely. But even with the minute-to-minute coverage on Twitter and cable news shows, the snap analysis offers little depth in its attempt to unpack big questions that are top of mind for viewers and organizations, like:
- Why are the presidential candidates and campaigns making the decisions they do?
- What are they trying to accomplish?
- And how will the results of the election impact the future of our country?
David Plouffe, the most recognized and most successful political strategist in the country, digs into the roster of candidates — from what they are trying to accomplish in their messaging to whether or not they can recover from crisis. Drawing on his experience as the architect of President Barack Obama’s two breakthrough campaigns and his connections to the people on the ground, he breaks down the candidates’ successes and failures in their pathway to securing the ultimate prize: the American presidency.
Pragmatic, specific, and motivational, Plouffe details how political strategies have evolved and how citizens can get involved and make a difference, in what he calls possibly “the most important election of any of our lifetimes.”
What Makes a Great Leader
David Plouffe has served as the right hand and consigliere to presidents, senators, and CEOs. He shares lessons applicable to any sector, about what makes a strong and durable leader, especially during moments of crisis, and offers advice for how staff and advisers can best serve the number one in an organization.
Data and Digital
David Plouffe’s award winning storytelling has leveraged digital to drive voter and consumer behavior. Working on the front lines, testing content every day in new and innovative ways in the 2020 election. Plouffe knows that if you don’t have TikTok and Snapchat plans, you are missing the next generation of consumers and voters.
From Congress to the presidential campaign trail to the White House to Uber and the philanthropic world, David Plouffe has had a front row seat to some of the more challenging moments in recent times. He shares observations and lessons in how best to manage crisis situations, give yourself an opportunity to recover, and leverage moments of strength.
How to Motivate People to Take Action
Whether it’s the grassroots-fueled Obama political campaigns, leading the efforts to organize Uber drivers and riders in regulatory fights, or working with organizations to change our criminal justice system, David Plouffe has unique insights and victories to share about when, how, and why to ask voters, customers, or citizens to raise their voice to help deliver their desired outcome.
In today’s world, the most effective efforts marry smart marketing and creative strategy with grassroots activity, on and off line to create brand loyalty. Based on both personal history and historical study, Plouffe provides a tutorial on what is possible – and what isn't – when it comes to activation.
How to Communicate and Win in a Rapidly Changing Digital Age
Every year – or even every month – brings new changes in technology and consumer and voter behavior. Despite the plethora of avenues to reach people, delivering a consistent message to your target audience is harder than ever.
David Plouffe reveals how the Obama campaigns, and the White House, combatted this by leveraging each medium to maximum effect. Additionally, Plouffe forecasts how the media landscape is likely to further change in the months and years ahead and what organizations can do to stay ahead of the curve.
Innovation and Disruption Will Be the Rule
History does repeat itself. Most major breakthroughs of the last century have been celebrated first by the consumers that benefit, and often scorned by the companies and regulators that wanted to protect the status quo.
Academics refer to game-changing ideas as "disruptive innovation." David Plouffe calls it "simple progress." Being on the front lines of new technological innovations in politics, business, and philanthropy, Plouffe’s insights and rich stories will be of an interest to any organization – academic, private, and non-profit – that is trying to use technology to make smarter decisions about the future and not be the victim of massive disruption.
His unprecedented approach to reach voters by leveraging technology and big data resulted in the election of America’s first African-American president. At Uber, Plouffe spearheaded reforms and strategies that enabled companies representing all industries to innovate and grasp opportunities that would otherwise be restricted by outdated rules and monopoly preservation.
At the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Plouffe builds collaboration between technologists and practitioners on the front lines in communities leading the efforts to solve real-world challenges.
During his presentation, Plouffe explores the technological disruption happening all around us, the key ingredients for success and what other industries and areas are ripe for massive change.
Works by David Plouffe
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White House Chief of Staff (2013-2017); Deputy National Security Advisor (2010-2013)