How many of you believe you are better off now than your parents were at the same age? How many believe your children will be better off when they are the age you are now?
Pollster and communications expert Frank Luntz posed those questions to a room full of Washington employers Wednesday during the opening address of the 23rd annual AWB Policy Summit at Suncadia Resort.
A fair number of hands went up in response to the first question, but considerably fewer to the second question.
"Is that America?" Luntz said. "Is that the American dream? If the answer is yes, something is wrong."
Luntz spent the next 90 minutes challenging his audience to help change the direction of the country and the state by changing the words they use to communicate with employees and the public.
His address was a mix of advice over specific words that employers should use or not use -- "economic freedom" instead of "free enterprise," "hardworking taxpayer" instead of "middle class," and "healthy economy" instead of "business climate" -- and a general call to build trust.
The advice isn't based on personal opinion. Luntz's company makes extensive use of polling and focus groups to test the effectiveness of messages and words, so he's got the research to back him up.
The majority of Luntz's work is with corporate clients, but he is likely best known for his work in politics and his address touched on the presidential race and political advertising.
He noted that many in the audience were likely Mitt Romney supporters, but he was critical of ads from the Romney campaign that attack President Barack Obama.
"You cannot attack your opponent, you have to respect them," Luntz said. "If you yell or you accuse, you have no chance to influence."
Luntz, who has gained fame for changing the language of debates over taxes -- he renamed the "estate tax" the "death tax" and prefers "energy exploration" over "oil drilling" -- introduced some new words that he believes employers should use more often, including:
- "I get it." (You have to say it three times, he said.)
- "No exuses." (It's the ultimate articulation of accountability.)
- "If you remember only one thing ..." (It is the cue that something really matters. "If you remember only one thing, remember to say, 'If you only remember one thing,'" he said.)
Luntz ended by showing his audience examples of some good and bad political ads -- ads that he noted most people in the room would never see because Washington is not a swing state.
Luntz cited this ad as example of an effective pro-Romney ad:
Luntz made a final appeal for business leaders to work together and to do a better job of explaining how strong, healthy businesses can lead to a healthy and prosperous economy for everyone.
"We really are all in this together," he said.