Dennis Culloton, President and CEO

We at Culloton Strategies and the Chicago Cubs have had a few days to decompress after the team finally achieved approval of its expansion plan for Wrigley Field.

 The recent approval by the Chicago Landmarks Commission is a major milestone after an almost decade-long battle. While litigation may still ensue, there are lessons to be learned for public affairs and campaign strategists. 

Build a battle plan.  Plenty of times all of us on Team Wrigley thought mere logical argument was enough to carry the day. But when going up against formidable opponents who feel just as strongly, you need to map out your plan of action.

 No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.  I don’t know what famous general said this, but it is true.  When crafting the aforementioned strategy, always have a Plan B mapped out too.  Whether it’s your landing craft unable to get to the beaches or last minute objections to moving bricks from an iconic outfield wall, you need to adapt in order to overcome problems and objections.

 Politics is a game of addition. You need a campaign that adds supporters to your base. For the Cubs, union leaders, chambers of commerce from around the city and state and loyal fans all weighed in with their support.  Relying on your existing base is not enough. You always can use more support.

 Most issue campaigns can’t be won by simply lobbying your way to success. There are a few exceptions, but you better win over your base of supporters instead of relying on backroom lobbying. Energized supporters provide the cover for reluctant elected officials and skeptical members of the media. Grassroots efforts are critical to the success of a campaign and there are more tools to reach your base directly than ever before.

 Compelling messages win supporters.  The grassroots support comes from a message that resonates.  Tom Ricketts’ message this spring was simple.“ We’ve been trying to avoid going to court in order to get our Wrigley renovations underway, but we’ve gotten nowhere in our negotiations with the rooftops. We can’t wait any longer, the time to move forward is now.”

 Compelling images help sell the messages.  Tom Ricketts’ direct-to-fans video was impactful. The absurd image of setting up a tee for professional athletes to hit into a net in front of the clubhouse television was a tool Tom used to truly show fans what he has been telling them for years: Wrigley is antiquated and provides Cubs players with subpar facilities, leaving them at a disadvantage.

 Have Tom Ricketts as your advocate. Tom amazes me in his ability to be, as ESPN’s Stuart Scott says, “Cool as the other side of the pillow,” in negotiations and tough deals. Whether it is three years of negotiations with Sam Zell or years of negotiations with the Mayor, City Council and litigious roof top owners, nothing seems to rattle him.