5 things Andrew Yang must do for the next debate

As a lifetime product guy, I pay attention to substance, style and marketing. Yang has the first one nailed. He’s talking about two issues that will make or break the country and the world in the next decade: income inequality and climate change.

Yes, we need health care reform. That is a big problem for the country. But these two are more important.

So here’s a game plan:

  1. Name check other candidates.
  2. Pick a message.
  3. Tell a story.
  4. Practice what you preach.
  5. Think different.

Game the game – Name check other single digit candidates

The design of the debates is to give the top candidates the most airtime. The rich get richer. Moderators will always go the highest polling candidates; that’s the nature of media. They have a hard time thinking beyond two. In one of the earlier debates, CNN’s Don Lemon asked a question about income inequality – but didn’t direct it to Yang.

The rules of the debate are that if someone is mentioned, they get time to respond. Right now, what happens is that Biden, Bernie and Warren talk about each other, so they get more airtime.

Turn those your rules to your advantage. Yang, Booker and Harris should name check each other, thus getting more time.

YANG: Sen Harris represents California, a state where you have people with tens and hundreds of millions of dollars living a mile from people shooting up in the streets. What have you done on income inequality.

HARRIS: You’re a techie who made a lot of money. Your UBI is a bad idea.

Don’t talk about Biden, Bernie or Warren. This gives them more air time, which is what provides oxygen for enthusiasm and dollars.

Think of it as a game of debate keep away. That may sound cynical, but them’s the rules. You’re already playing it, you just don’t know it. Biden, Bernie or Warren are holding the ball.

Obviously, this would require working with your fellow candidates to pass the ball back and forth.

Pick a message and stick to it

There should be one key message. Warren and Bernie focus on Medicare for all. Biden focuses on the fact that he’s an old white guy who is friends with Obama.

You’ve got too many messages. Pick one: UBI. Legalizing pot is great and should be done. But it distracts. You could put that messaging out in other channels. Facebook probably has an ad targeting group of “potheads.” Use those tools for the sub message.

But keep it easy to remember. The last guy had one message: white power. brown people are bad and they’re responsible for everything that’s wrong in your life.

Your message is better: it’s the robots, not the immigrants. This would also be a way of getting at Trump’s core message.

Tell stories, not stats

As tech guys, we focus on numbers and stats. Booooooooring. Tell stories of real people, people you’ve met on the trail. Here’s a good one.


Here’s another:

They’re good stories because it’s a real person talking about what they’ve been though, but also what they’re thinking about. They also happen to be 100% true.

You could easily turn those into 30s or 60s. (Just don’t piss away ad dollars on TV — that’s a whole other conversation.) The story can shrink or expand to fit the time slot. Have a 6 minute block on CNBC and the anchor wants you to talk more, you can.

Practice what you preach, avoid the gimmicks

The one family thing last debate was a gimmick that fell flat, as I’d expect. It’s almost the kind of thing a huckster like Trump would do. (Except that he wouldn’t because he does give out money unless you’re a porn star.)

You could give your staff their own freedom dividend. Every full time staffer gets $1,000 a month. That will generate a lot more stories. When staffers are talking to media, they can then relate what they’ve done with their $1,000 dollars. Real people talking resonates; abstracts do not.

Think different

Too many people in politics hire experienced consultants who’ve been roaming the halls of DC forever. (Don’t know if this is the case with your campaign.) Like with the core issues of income inequality we talk about, technology can make politics more efficient and winning elections easier.

This is an email I sent to a high-profile VC in 2016 about an idea I had:

Screen Shot 2019-10-07 at 10.37.29 AM

Three months before the 2016 election, I suggested that Facebook could be used effectively to win the election. This would have been a perfectly legitimate way to do this. I couldn’t get anyone’s backing. But we all know what happened…

Politics isn’t really that different from designing products. You have to understand human psychology, address a distracted audience and get the right product in front of them.

So, think different. You’ve got a tech community that wants to see you win.




About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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