Media, Publicity and Marketing in Politics


So, let’s start with media. What role does media play in politics today?

What do you even think of when I use the term media? I ask because media can mean different things to different people. It can mean reporters, journalists, writers, and the traditional media. It can also mean digital, sound, visuals, magazine, television, webcast, periscope, vine.  There are so many social media platforms out there now, and you need to be on all of them to cover all the demographic bases. You see here that media, publicity and marketing really, all overlap.  That’s what we call a campaign and why we call it a campaign – whether it’s retail, financial or political. When you’re actually working on a campaign, it’s next to impossible to separate out media, publicity and marketing. It’s a fine, delicate balance.

So, most campaigns fall over themselves to get media exposure. Because, that’s what you do, right?  No, no. Wrong, so wrong. Wrong. Please take my advice, don’t go anywhere near the media until you’re ready for primetime. If you only hear one thing I’ve said today, please let it be this. And don’t forget to check those closets for skeletons!

This is where PR comes knocking. Call it what you want – publicity, public relations. What we’re really doing is media management on the candidate’s behalf. On your behalf.

Managing the media is even more critical now than it was in the past – if you’re even remotely thinking of running for public office – examine your conscience. Think about anything negative or potentially negative, or anything that might even have the appearance of negativity in your life, going all the way back to grade school.  (Yes, grade school – remember Mitt Romney – the school bully?) That didn’t help him.

And this is so important. Run a background check on yourself, financial, criminal, the works – remember, your opponent is going to do this for you anyway. Check the wayback machine to see if you have posted anything online that might come back to bite you. Google yourself. Have you changed positions on anything? Have a good reason why.

Why not have the rebuttals ready when the inevitable political attack comes? Because they always find something. This is called getting out in front of the story. Owning the story. Your story. This is something that candidates are really, really awfully bad at doing.

So, before you go anywhere near the media, have your story together. You know that old saying, if you don’t manage your own story, someone else will.  And it’s not just about examining yourself and your background, and the background of your nearest and dearest.  You have a whole story to pull together.  And we’re not covering that today, so briefly we’ll assume that you already have your talking points rehearsed. You know why you’re running for office. You know where you’re running for office. You can give the elevator speech at the drop of a hat. 

Publicity is the easy part. Every news outlet needs content. If your story is compelling, they will want you on the air. They will want to write about you. Now, what is a compelling story? Well, basically, any good PR person can take any thread and weave it into a compelling story for media consumption. (We’re back to that ‘story thing’ again, the branding).  Publicity can be bought and paid for. It can be free, or unearned, as the technical term is. (Like Donald Trump’s amazingly HUUGE campaign.)  Now there’s something, right? One of the wealthiest men in the world is spending the least amount of money on his campaign. His burn rate is lower than anyone else’s.

You will come across terms like earned media, unearned media, and all the time. The quick and dirty on earned media is this – you place an ad in a publication or on a TV channel. You buy some radio spots. You negotiate before you pay – don’t forget that! Before you pay, negotiate the level of publicity you’re going to get for your money, over and above your purchased spots. Take your business elsewhere if you’re not comfortable with what they’re offering.

Unearned media is The Donald’s specialty. Because his own personal brand is so strong, he commands attention every time he speaks.  This is not something unique to Trump. Anyone can do it – we’re back to the story, or branding again! The story, or brand, is really the single most important piece in the puzzle to getting elected.

Now to marketing. Now we’re getting to the active component of your campaign. How it works is simple. You simply market your story, simply! Marketing your story involves planning out your entire campaign, usually two years out. It means putting yourself squarely in the public eye. It means knocking on doors, kissing those babies, shaking those hands.

And never forget, running for public office comes at a high personal price.  To paraphrase Sting,

Every move you make, every step you take, they’ll be watching you.

Everyone has their own method of planning a campaign. I like to start with the post-election day celebrations, then work back monthly to the present day.  You’ll see, when you write this down, that all the hard work happens well before the actual Election Day. All those events you need to get to, all those hands to shake, all those photographs for your PR binder.

Why do you need a PR binder? Some people call it a press kit. When you call any TV or radio station to get your candidate on the air, they will ask you to email a press kit. I don’t need to go into that, I’m sure everyone here has been involved in putting together press kits!  You also need that clear, smiling, high resolution photograph. The TV stations will also expect you to have a 10 second video, preferably professional, and with use permissions.

You will need to accumulate at least 60 minutes’ worth of one to two minute video clips.  These can be man-on-the-street videos, where you’re meeting and chatting with people about the issues – their issues.

They can be clips from coffee shops, where you’re talking to the owner and hearing about how tough it is to make money these days.

They can be clips from editorial board interviews (which are always videotaped now) on the issues, and where you stand on them, and what you will do when you’re in office.  As a matter of fact, you really need to rehearse your media interviews, because most newspapers will put the video online immediately.

So why do you need these video clips? Well, you need these video clips because you’re going to be emailing and Facebooking and tweeting, and putting stuff on periscope and putting stuff on vine. So much, so many different social media platforms, and it’s all so visual now. When was the last time you stopped to read a post that wasn’t accompanied by an attractive visual?

Honestly, the more effort you put into all of this two years out, one year out, even six months out, will make it easier for you to get elected. Why? Because everyone in your constituency will know you. Really know you. They’ll be familiar with your face. They will know where you stand on the issues that are important to them. They will trust you – why? Familiarity.

If someone you’ve been seeing around for two years asks for your vote, versus someone you’ve really never met before, who hasn’t knocked on your door, who are you most likely to vote for? The candidate you are most familiar with.



Categories: politics, Public Relations