Taylor Swift's Apple Approach Lives Up to Her Name

Two groups prevailed in their quest to receive compensation for their labor, but one quickly convinced a broad coalition that "You Belong with Me" while another's efforts withered on the vine for decades.

It took raisin growers over six decades to get the U.S. Supreme Court to confirm that the government could not take a major portion of their crop without compensating them. It took Taylor Swift less than a day to get Apple to reverse course on its proposal to not compensate artists for their music during the free trial period of its new audio streaming service.

Swift, working as an activist on behalf of all (sometimes starving) artists against the behemoth purveyors of their artistic creations, achieved swift results. The contrast between her approach and the raisin growers' gives insights to other seekers of justice.

When Swift assembled a strategy to win, she skillfully determined the best combination of where, what, who, and how to deliver her argument.

Swift rightly observed that legal battles take forever, political action could take just this side of forever, but that appealing to public opinion could be the surest and quickest arena to achieve her aim: compensation for artists. The area of public opinion became her "where."

Taylor's next task was to define the question at stake. Her implied question was "should artists, many of whom are still struggling, be forced to underwrite a marketing promotion for the company with the world's highest market capitalization?" That was her "what." This is key, because all public opinion contests are at their heart not a battle of who has the best answer, but which side defines the question that is being debated.

Swift rightly chose "who" to not be herself as an individual, but herself as the champion for all artists. She chose her "how," the channel of communications she selected, to be an open letter to Apple on Tumblr.

Apple correctly assessed Swift's cause as being legitimate and one that they could not win. They therefore acquiesced to her demands.

Swift's approach is textbook perfect. She could be a star student at GW's Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM). The raisin growers, however, need to take our course. They showed little wisdom in selecting their where, what, who, and how.

To begin with, the raisin growers chose a very slow "where," the courts, and a very narrow, though worthy, "what," "shouldn't the government pay me for what it takes from me." The plaintiff farmers were fighting a New Deal imposed supply management system that had the support of many farmers and like OPEC, controls supply to ensure a fair price is received for their product. Dismantling it without a backup plan could result in an economic loss that could wipe out the gain the plaintiff received from its legal victory.

OPEC members would just agree to pump less oil to do so. The Raisin Administration Committee takes the requisite amount of production from farmers to manage supply without compensation and maintains them in a National Raisin Reserve, eventually disposing of them through various means.

If you are already either confused or bored with this detail, I have made my case. If you are explaining, you are losing. This confirms the question, the "what," chosen by the raisin farmers was misguided.

Taylor Swift (or any graduate of GSPM) could likely quickly define a different path for the farmers to achieve a more complete justice. Some might suggest that a better question would be, "does it make sense in water starved California to grow twice as many raisins as we need and dispose of half?" Nearly all of America's raisins are grown in California.

That question would make it easier to build a bigger, more powerful coalition than just farmers. That would be a better "who." Environmentalists would seem logical allies in that quest. The inhabitants and political leaders of California's water-starved cities would be anxious to become partners. The energy that could be generated could not only recover the farmer's freedom to market, but also fund efforts to address supply management concerns through compensation for idling land or redirecting it towards other uses if that was necessary to gain farmer support.

To get the just compensation the raisin farmers sought would still likely require more than a public relations response. It would require action either by the United States Department of Agriculture, Congress, and/or the California legislature. But given that the alternative took 78 years, even with today's divisiveness, political action could be quicker than legal action. Playing on multiple fronts would also increase the odds of success.

For those striving to change the world, it would be wise for them to not just be able to sing the words to every Taylor Swift song, but to be able to follow her astute actions in assembling to win in a contest of ideas.

Hon. Mark R. Kennedy (@HonMarkKennedy) leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, he previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).