By Joshua Green (BusinessWeek) The day after Jim Messina quit his job as White House deputy chief of staff last January, he caught a plane to Los Angeles, paid a brief visit to his girlfriend, and then commenced what may be the highest-wattage crash course in executive management ever undertaken.
He was about to begin a new job as Barack Obama’s campaign manager, and being a diligent student with access to some very smart people, he arranged a rolling series of personal seminars with the CEOs and senior executives of companies that included Apple AAPL, Facebook FB, Zynga ZNGA, Google GOOG, Microsoft MSFT, Salesforce CRM, and DreamWorks DWA.
“I went around the country for literally a month of my life interviewing these companies and just talking about organizational growth, emerging technologies, marketing,” he says at Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago. In two long, private conversations, Steve Jobs tore into Messina for all the White House was doing wrong and what it ought to be doing differently, before going on to explain how the campaign could exploit technology in ways that hadn’t been possible before.
“Last time you were programming to only a couple of channels,” Jobs told him, meaning the Web and e-mail. “This time, you have to program content to a much wider variety of channels—Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube GOOG, Google—because people are segmented in a very different way than they were four years ago.”
When Obama declared for president, the iPhone hadn’t been released. Now, Jobs told him, mobile technology had to be central to the campaign’s effort. “He knew exactly where everything was going,” Messina says. “He explained viral content and how our stuff could break out, how it had to be interesting and clean.”
At DreamWorks Studios, Steven Spielberg spent three hours explaining how to capture an audience’s attention and offered a number of ideas that will be rolled out before Election Day. An early example of Spielberg’s influence is RomneyEconomics.com, a website designed by the Obama team to tell the story—a horror story, by their reckoning—of Mitt Romney’s career at Bain Capital. Afterward, Spielberg insisted that Messina sit down with the DreamWorks marketing team. Hollywood movie studios are expert, as presidential campaigns also must be, at spending huge sums over a few weeks to reach and motivate millions of Americans.