PR lessons from the campaign trail

As you work to gain your “cherry on top” media placements before the end of the year and put the finishing touches on your 2015 plans, be thankful you’re not in politics.

Political campaigns are operating at maximum capacity, squeezing every drop out of their candidates, staff, volunteers and backers – every hour until the polls close on Election Day.

Political communicators don’t have time for luxuries like food and sleep. In this hyper-intense pressure cooker, every post, tweet and email could make the difference between winning and losing. While this tumultuous process is harrowing and hard to endure, PR pros can learn more in these precious weeks than they otherwise would over a year or more.

Fortunately, you don’t need to forego your own favorite meal or surrender a night of sleep to benefit from these lessons. I’m presenting them to you here, hassle-free. I compiled the following top 10 lessons from my experiences on the campaign trail. In return, I ask only that you do your part by reading a piece of political mail before throwing it in the recycle bin and – most importantly – by voting.

1.     Redefine your audience.

If your audience is defined broadly as current and potential customers, you have a lot of work to do. Customers – “voters” to campaigns – represent a starting point from which you must narrow your audience and focus your budget. Campaigns conduct research to determine which “customers” are most likely to vote, what issues they favor and oppose, and whether they’re solidly in one camp or another. Winning campaigns target each voter based on the issues they care about most, and this strategy works.

2.     Conduct research and follow it.

Campaigns test not only whether their messages resonate with the target audience, but also whether their opponents’ messaging is sticking. Don’t rely solely on self-reporting; people will often say one thing but do another. You can gauge actual “movement” by asking your sample audience the same questions before and after delivering your key messages.

3.     Keep it simple.

Hope. Change. A new beginning. Simple messages break through the clutter. Try to weave your most compelling messages into a consistent theme you can use throughout the campaign.

 4.     Build support.

No candidate wins a campaign alone. Build (or reinforce) relationships with community leaders, industry representatives and other stakeholders and influencers to add credibility to your position, enhance your reputation and show movement beyond your brand alone. Remember, it takes several points of contact to build resonance for your candidate. One story is not enough.

5.     Under-promise, over-deliver.

Two million media impressions is impressive if your goal is 1 million. It’s much less impressive if your goal is 5 million.

6.     When something is “broke,” fix it – and move on.

Don’t get caught up in who should be blamed or waste energy on internal matters. Resolve issues quickly and move on to your next challenge. If you don’t keep your head, no one else will do it for you.

7.     Always mind the budget.

Every dollar matters. You should be able to explain where the money is going, why it’s going there and what it’s doing for you.

8.     Tell a great story.

For many political campaigns, as with PR campaigns, the enemy is apathy. Your new product or initiative is exciting to you, but you must frame it in a larger context and tell a story that will meaningfully connect with your audience. This is particularly true when gaining support for a candidate. Tap into voters’ lifestyle, passion and motivation. Get to what excites and moves them.

9.     Don’t just plan – do.

You may have spent a lot of time planning a new effort, but some people are prone to keep tinkering for weeks without ever fully committing to the plan. At some point, cut off discussion and execute. Plans will always change with new developments. Be flexible.

10.  Try something new.

If you look at competitive campaigns, many have a new idea, a new vision or a new approach. If you find yourself doing something because that’s the way it’s always been done, try something different. People change; brands should too.

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