PR Lessons from Election Season

This month, discussion of the upcoming presidential election has pervaded not just news media but conversations with friends, international colleagues, and even professors. While my pre-Labor Day excitement for election season has waned a bit amid the repetitive ads and fundraising emails, the idea that years of hard work and sleepless nights on the campaign trail will come down to one day in November, continues to fascinate me.  Sure it’s about dollars raised, but it’s also about messaging, articulating a vision and being persuasive—all ideals I value as a strategic communications professional.  A campaign is still a campaign—whether political or public relations.

Here are five things I’ve learned from the presidential campaign that could translate to lessons for PR:,_2012

Passion Matters.  In my opinion, during the first debate President Obama clearly articulated his policy agenda and vision for America, yet Mitt Romney, who exhibited more aggressiveness and fervor, was seen as the victor.  In the same manner, a talented CEO who is not able to display passion and excitement may not be the best spokesperson for the company’s new product.  Or maybe he could benefit from some media training.

Watch Your Words.  Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comment said at a private fundraising event became a sensation when a hidden video recording went viral.  Sure “off the record” is still off the record, but in today’s smartphone-driven world very little is private.  It’s important to advise clients to watch their words no matter how trustworthy the audience seems.

Be the Agenda Setter.  Both candidates have struggled with communicating an easy to understand, bulleted platform that would resonate with voters.  A client may have a list of a dozen points she wants to make to a reporter, but in order to make sure you control a cohesive message, it’s important to hone in on the top 3-4 ideas that will most appeal to the target audience and generate interest.

Consistency is Key.  Whether stating a policy position or managing a PR crisis situation, consistency in messaging is crucial in maintaining trust.  Especially with so much information and news content available in the public domain, it’s important to refine key messages and get the whole team on the same page before moving forward.

Build Strategic Teams.  Obama picked Joe Biden as his number two and Romney picked Paul Ryan as his running mate because both men encompassed qualities the other lacked.  Sure it’s a campaign tactic, but it’s also effective.  Building teams of individuals who complement each other by reaching different demographics while still conveying a cohesive message is a great way to engage stakeholders—whether voters or consumers.

Any lessons you have learned from following the election?

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