Rubio's money problems could give him an edge

Marco Rubio has a political card no other presidential candidate can play and it has nothing to do with race. Marco Rubio is the 99 percent and that's something his opponents with trust funds and millions in the bank can't say.

But if you listen to the news cycle — which means what voters are now thinking — you might believe Rubio is not qualified to be president based on his fiscal patterns. And those concerns are relevant: how can voters trust Rubio to balance the country's budget if he can't balance his own? How can he be a legitimate presidential contender if he needs to sell a retirement fund to fix a broken fridge? How can Rubio be a fiscal conservative if he goes in debt over a luxury boat?

Sen. Marco Rubio.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Sen. Marco Rubio.

Or if you're Rubio's communication team, you reframe those money problems around everything they represent: Rubio knows what it is like to live paycheck-to-paycheck, like the 99 percent. He understands the American struggles of finding extra money for a family emergency, like your Uncle Joe. And he knows what it is like to worry about the soaring cost of higher education, like most parents.

That's not a narrative that Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina and the others can claim.

So why aren't we hearing more of that narrative from the Marco Rubio campaign?

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In a cluttered field — both in business and politics — it's a lot harder to get your message out with the media. There is only so much space in the newspapers and airtime on TV devoted to presidential politics. Throw in 20 potential or declared candidates and it gets even harder to manage the message.

But it is possible. Here are four narratives I would advise Rubio's communication team to counter that "financial struggle" narrative. I'm basing these strategies on my career as a producer with NBC and CBS when I was the one writing the narrative.

1. Sell all of those big-ticket items that are putting you in debt. It's one thing for the media or challengers to say Rubio is in debt because of his lavish purchases, but if he sells those exotic items now, it becomes a past tense story. When Rubio is questioned on his spending patterns, all he needs to say is, "I don't own that boat anymore. I sold it to pay my bills." The media and his opponents can't berate him for selling a boat he couldn't afford.

2. Lower his debt-to-income ratio. I don't know what Rubio's debt-to-income ratio is but if he can lower it to 43 percent, like the 99 percent, the media and opponents can no longer challenge his fiscal spending patterns. Story over.

3. Better contrast his family background against Clinton, Paul and Bush. Rubio has a great family narrative, which is one of the reasons why many of the big GOP donors have publicly jumped behind him. Rubio's father worked as a bartender at a hotel. Compare that to the other candidates like Jeb Bush, whose father was president, , Rand Paul whose father ran for president or Hillary Clinton, who was Secretary of State and first lady. Unfortunately, Rubio's father is no longer alive, so he can't embody that family story, but Rubio's campaign can still bring his spirit into the debate and narrative.

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4. Be careful with big donors. Mitt Romney never had to battle an image that he was indebted to big donors during his presidential campaigns. His image issue always revolved around how he couldn't relate to the 99 percent. Rubio relates to the 99 percent but he needs to be conscious that his money problems could ignite perceptions that he is vulnerable to big donors. Will Rubio change his votes, conviction or speeches if the big money tells him to do something he doesn't believe in? He's already been accused of doing that with his position on immigration. The story didn't stick, but if a pattern begins to emerge in the shadow, the media and his opponents will be ready to pounce on it.

Business and politics are alike in many ways, so there is a takeaway for you, regardless of your political leanings. If a negative story begins to percolate around your business, immediately get in front of it. Identify the issue and counter the narrative before it catches on because as every homeowner knows, it's much easier to extinguish a fire on the stove than in the kitchen. Or as Rubio might say, it's a lot easier to buy a new fridge than to fix a broken one.

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Mark Macias heads Macias PR, a global public-relations firm, that has run media and branding campaigns for politicians, tech start-ups, financial firms, nonprofits and companies. He's also author of the book, "Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media." Follow him on Twitter @markmacias.