One Thing Paul Ryan Brings to the Table: A Little Marketing Experience

VP Candidate Was an Oscar Mayer Hotdogger and a Marketing Consultant for the Family Business

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While he didn't cause quite the media conniption fit that John McCain did when he picked Sarah Palin in 2008, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney rallied conservatives and riled Democrats by picking the young, brash, 42-year-old Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate.

With Mr. Ryan by his side, Mr. Romney has rebranded his ticket as "America's Comeback Team," while the Barack Obama camp is calling it the "Go Back Team" -- as in going back to Bush-era policies.

Despite the tidal wave of opinions from pundits -- who were likely thrilled beyond all imagining to have something new to be wrong about over the weekend -- it's not clear yet what the choice will do to Brand Romney in the general election. For now, Mr. Ryan's conservative bona fides will convince the last holdouts in the Republican party and gain the attention of those who prefer small, fiscally responsible government. Democrats, meanwhile, are already portraying him as anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-elderly for elements of his budget -- and likely preparing a barrage of TV spots to make those points.

Whatever the case, the choice of Mr. Ryan will make it that much harder for the Democrats to focus the campaign on anything other than the economy and government spending. And keep in mind that the Romney campaign and its affiliated Super PACs are likely to have far more advertising cash on hand as we move beyond the conventions.

Interestingly, Mr. Ryan may have a few ideas on how to spend that cash. It turns out he has a little bit of experience in, and in some cases a proven flair for, marketing.

As a young man, Mr. Ryan drove the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. Being a "Hotdogger," as they're called, is rather competitive. Each year Oscar Meyer gets as many as thousands of applications. From those, they select 30 to drive around the country, often to college campuses

Prior to his being elected to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, he logged time as a marketing consultant for the family business, Janesville, Wis.-based contractor firm Ryan Inc. Central, which handles site-work projects such as earth moving, landfill construction and golf-course building.

The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza, who recently wrote an excellent profile of Mr. Ryan, noted this marketing role was his only private-sector experience as an adult, helping him pad out his resume in anticipation for public office.

Mr. Ryan's first election campaign took advantage of the Ryan name in its advertising. The Ryans are one of three prominent Janesville families and, according to the New Yorker profile, "One ad showed him walking through a Janesville cemetery among the gravestones of his ancestors. He won the election, becoming the second-youngest member of the House, and he has been re-elected easily ever since."

He also has become a savvy marketer of his ideas in Congress and around D.C., though that has come after some disappointments. An early attempt to get the Bush administration behind a Ryan-led Social Security overhaul failed, and Mr. Ryan blamed its downfall not on the merits of the idea but on the Bush's failure to properly communicate the plan to the American public. "The Administration did a bad job of selling it," he told The New Yorker's Mr. Lizza, explaining Bush took up Social Security after the re-election without pre-selling the idea. "'You've got to prepare the country for these things," he explained. "You can't just spring it on them after you win … 'Don't let the engineers run the marketing department."'

More recently, Mr. Ryan has become known for his budget proposals, presented as an alternative to the president's budget. Even that was branded, in what seemed a deliberate move to convince members of his own party to get on board. "From the title page of his idyllic 'Path to Prosperity' budget plan down to the most scrutinized fine print, Ryan is adept at framing proposals in the most pleasant terms," wrote the Associated Press.

Whether Mr. Romney can use Mr. Ryan's assets to help Mr. Romney secure the presidency remains to be seen, but it's better than the alternative of an ill-prepared media magnet in a red dress or an experienced politician with a tendency to contract foot-in-mouth disease.

We'll get to meatier issues of branding and how Mr. Ryan's pick will affect the ad battle later, but for now we want to know what you think: How useful will Mr. Ryan be in helping Mr. Romney in his bid to win the White House?

Contributing: Ken Wheaton, Abbey Klaassen

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