“Hello, Peter, this is Bill.”
It was early 1992. Bill was being pummeled in the media for allegations of sexual infidelity. He had just lost the New Hampshire primary. Not since 1952 had a candidate won the presidency without first winning New Hampshire.
Bill was desperate: he needed to raise $90,000 by the end of the day to move on to the next key primary state. He was calling to ask Peter to reach out to the Hollywood community to raise the necessary funds.
The sum he was requesting told Peter how bad things were. Asking for $500,000 would make sense. Requesting $90,000 to move to the next campaign stop signaled the campaign was on the brink.
Campaign finance rules put strict limits of $1,000 on the amount any one individual can donate which meant Peter would have to put his credibility on the line with a whole lot of people.
There was a long pause.
Finally, Bill asked, “Have you ever seen the picture High Noon?”
Peter writes in Tell to Win: “Looking back I can imagine the mental calisthenics being performed on the other end of the phone as Clinton searched for just the right story content that would move this particular audience – me – to his particular goal.”
High Noon is the 1952 classic western movie starring Gary Cooper as the heroic sheriff Will Kane who faces off against a notorious gang. He expects the community to back him up in the fight. But at high noon, only one young boy is willing to stand by him at the moment of truth.
Bill didn’t recite the story of the movie. He didn’t need to.
“Peter, this is High Noon,” he said.
“Ahha!” writes Peter. “Those words transported me emotionally, and I immediately got it.
“Because I had personally experienced the emotional drama, urgency, and ultimate exhilaration of Kane’s struggle through the movie, this familiar story immediately triggered my empathy for Clinton’s experience in his campaign.”
Peter went to work. He began calling Hollywood A-Listers.
“You know High Noon, the movie?” Peter asked. Of course they did. “Well this is High Noon for Bill Clinton.”
By 4 pm that afternoon, he had collected checks for $90,000.
“When the noon whistle blew in the movie,” writes Peter, “the hero faced his demons, inside and out and braved his way to victory.”
Bill went on to win the Democratic nomination on his way to becoming the 42nd President of the United States.
His natural storytelling ability was a big reason for his success and movies and books are terrific raw material for our stories.
Reflection: Think about a current business challenge. Is there a story from a movie or book I could tell to move people to take action?
Action: Tell it.