Presidential candidates face a seemingly insurmountable challenge of managing perceptions, building advantageous relationships and glad-handing enough constituents to land in the Oval Office. Public relations and marketing efforts have always been an integral part of the campaign process but the evolution in expectations has been especially noticeable over the last half century.
We have seen many pivotal moments in campaigning, beginning in 1948 with the first radio broadcast of a presidential debate, drawing an audience of 60 million. Rolling on into 1960 – when television brought together Nixon and Kennedy in a debate that many argue led to Kennedy’s victory. More recently, 2008 saw many crucial moments in campaign history as the Obama camp positioned themselves as a trailblazer utilizing every form of social media to target their audience with a “Yes WE Can” message.
The common denominator across all of these campaign eras has been the steadfast teams of communicators standing on the sidelines to provide sound council on how each hopeful should strategically “brand” themselves. This branding takes shape in a variety of ways, from wardrobe to key messaging, tag lines, rallies, television ads, news articles, Tweets, Facebook pages, YouTube channels, Google+ accounts and on and on. Managing all of these facets comes down to effective strategy in controlling messaging and perceptions. Campaigning 101 teaches the following:
• Use key messaging to communicate consistent, clear and targeted messages of measurable ways you can impact and make changes to the current system. Messages of change and impact form the foundation of any strong political pundit’s campaign – balancing the budget, defense strategies and public services. Not one of our past president’s has won by advocating the status quo.
• Focus on persuading voters rather than educating them. When we look at persuasion versus education, it is important to realize that most Americans visiting the polling stations are impacted more with rhetorical speech than a lecture. Thus educating them is not a good use of funds or time.
• Follow-up on attacks with swift and immediate action. Being the victim of an attack is a foreseen obstacle in the political arena. Managing the attack at the outset by responding with positive messaging is the surest counter measure.
• Communicate within an established chain of command. Crises often spring from a break in the chain of command where someone who is unauthorized speaks to the media or leaks an unapproved message. Thus, operating within an established structure is imperative to the campaign’s longevity.
These high-level guidelines are the tenants of most campaigns, from city council all the way up to presidency. Managing them on a granular level is the challenge. As we watch the 2012 campaign forge full-steam ahead, it is increasingly interesting to see how the game is played by each camp knowing that it is all carefully crafted by the great minds of the flacks and agents behind the curtain.