We wouldn’t have won this either
I’ve been getting inundated all morning with calls, emails and texts along the lines of “Amazon should have hired you.” While I like to think that we’re pretty good at what we do, based on everything I know about this campaign and this client, picking the right consultant wasn’t going to change the outcome. Here’s why:
The die was already cast. By playing hundreds of cities off of each other, Amazon was courting disaster from day one. Sure, the HQ2 competition seemed clever. But when you jerk that many people around, the knives are coming out — especially when you end up choosing the only two markets that had enough qualified workers to meet their needs anyway.
Amazon’s mistakes on the front end were fatal. Not doing proper due diligence, not knowing the facts on the ground, not understanding the local politics and culture, and not forming local relationships all happened long before Amazon picked a political consultant. By the time Amazon engaged politically, the opposition was entrenched and immense. They could have prevented this entire mess had they put the work in on the front end or had they even just framed the tax incentives properly on day one (if they had just said, “We only want the same incentives anyone creating jobs in this part of Queens would get, we’ll apply for those that make sense and whatever we get, we get,” they would have ended up with $2.5 billion anyway and almost no opposition). But they didn’t.
They didn’t listen. While we weren’t involved in the fight, we’re pretty plugged into local politics so we had a decent sense of what was actually happening. From all accounts, Amazon ignored everyone’s advice, wouldn’t spend real money to win, wouldn’t even try to understand and adjust for the local context — and the results show. Consultants aren’t magicians. We can develop strategies. Give advice. Run campaigns. But it still depends on the client actually listening.
Google and Apple didn’t help. To both companies credits, they’re creating tens of thousands of jobs in places like New York and Austin with little to no tax incentives in return. Sure, maybe their announcements were just coincidental. But maybe they both enjoyed sticking it to Bezos.
New York lacks a pro-business infrastructure. For the business capital of the world, our advocacy for business is incredibly weak. Decades of not doing the hard political work to build a constituency and an infrastructure came back to haunt the business community, Amazon and Governor Cuomo.
So while I appreciate everyone’s confidence in us, we should be realistic about what a political strategy firm can and can’t do. A successful campaign is not a one sided process. And when it is, it always portends failure. Which is exactly what happened here.