PR and the 2016 Election

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  • November 3, 2016
  • Hilary Livingston

The 2016 election cycle has gained global attention for its bizarre and almost-but-not-quite comical headlines. In the last few months, we’ve heard about Russian hacking, email servers, global warming and everything in between. Everyone has an opinion on the candidates and the issues, but while 2016 has brought out some of the most memorable political campaign moments in recent history, those of us in the communications world can’t help but look at the election with our PR hats on.

Upon close inspection, and despite the differences in issues (and spokespeople) between politics and the tech industry, the mantras we live by in the PR world apply just as well to both sides of the coin. Selling a product is really no different than selling a presidential platform when you consider the strategies behind influencing your audiences.

This election cycle, a lot of us PR professionals have shared some of the following thoughts while watching the candidates:

  • Just answer the question. We’ve all seen the debates where a moderator’s question will be completely ignored for the sake of a candidate’s viewpoint on issue x, and we all just want to yell: “Answer the question!” Too often, spokespeople can get so wrapped up in their company talking points that they will completely fail to answer the question at hand. Your audience will learn your position on the issues in due time, but it’s important that you appear personable and engaged in the interview by sticking to the topic.
  • Social media really is a powerful thing. Social media has influenced this election like none before it, and it’s proving to still affect the voting population just a week before the election. From Bernie Sanders’ enduring Facebook community to the discovery of Melania Trump’s plagiarism on Twitter to the #HillaryForPrison campaign, social media continues to provide a powerful outlet for political ideas to grow and gain popularity. Just as a solid social media strategy can help popularize a new SaaS company or the latest mobile phone, so too can it rally support for or against a political campaign.
  • Stay on message! When staffing interviews or reviewing marketing content, we’re always imploring our clients to stick to their messaging. While some candidates have taken this to the extreme—see “Answer the question” above—the ability to constantly circle back to your main selling points is key to gaining support. It’s important that your audiences really understand what you truly stand for, and proper messaging can help with that.
  • The 24-hour media cycle is real. In 2016, when headlines need to be cranked out at unprecedented speeds, there’s no reason to think that any news is exempt from a potential media frenzy. From candidates’ food preferences to their homes, there’s seemingly no limit to what will gain coverage during an election cycle. Reporters have gone from working towards a Pulitzer to generating the most click-able headlines, and PR pros need to navigate the media’s thirst for viral content.
  • Always be telling a story. Policy and platforms are great, and they used to be enough to get a candidate elected. But these days, with the media cycle the way it is, it’s important that a candidate always be telling a story that resonates with people: what is the problem, why is it happening and where do I come in? If Americans are told by a candidate, Hey, we’ve spent far too long allowing corporations to influence our government, and I’m going to change that, you better believe a number of people are going to start listening. The same is true for any company messaging: if you can tie your offering into a wider story and problem that needs to be fixed, you have a much better chance of resonating with your audiences.

There are obvious differences between marketing, say, a new brand of VR goggles and running for President of the United States, but there are definite communications takeaways from the election cycle that can be extrapolated for any sort of PR campaign. Even in something as unique as the presidential election, we should always be listening for ways to improve at what we do.

Though—if you’re anything like me—you might be ready to move on to 2017.

Other good stuff in here