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2016—What a Year for the Political Communications Professional

This election year has been off the charts. Primaries and caucuses are breaking voting records. New Hampshire witnessed lines of traffic waiting to get to the polls. South Carolina voters lined up outside for their turn. Middle-aged Americans are registering to vote for the first time. Millennials are busy signing up for campus political clubs.

What does that say about the candidates and their communications teams? That they are dynamic marketers? One thing is for sure—communications and public relations professionals have to have eyes in the backs of their heads to keep up with the 2016 election.  Here’s what’s involved:

Branding Your Campaign

Create a message that resonates with voters—whether they are looking to “Make America Great Again” or “Feel the Bern.” That message carries into press releases and communications usually distributed by a paid staffer under a communications director title and/or through a separate public relations firm’s media advisor.

Fundraising

Financing a campaign drives the continuity. A lack of funds kills a campaign and any efforts in the process. Funds have to be raised according to Ethics Committee rules, and most campaigns hire an Ethics Chairperson to oversee operations in this matter. If any ethical rules are violated, the communications team has to be ready to tackle the tough questions that follow. Communications teams are also involved with marketing fundraising efforts via scheduled fundraising drives and events, phone bank solicitations, e-marketing campaigns and social media blasts.

Responding to Critics

Every organization has critics, but a campaign has to be prepared to deal with professionals. Pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher all have jobs that require them to say provocative things about candidates daily, and it can be tough keeping up with all of their rants. They love delivering low blows to candidates and sometimes their comments can be very damaging to a campaign. Communications teams have to be ready to rebut any false claims or comments every day, all day long.

Prepping for Debates

This round of presidential debates has earned the highest viewing ratings in election history. Viewers now expect “gotcha” questions from debate moderators. Candidates are usually prepared for them, however, sometimes the candidates are caught off-guard and do not deliver. The campaign’s communications team has to be on the sidelines ready to clarify answers because, thanks to Twitter, those comments will be immediately available to the public. In addition, the communications team is also prepared to work the media following the debate, in order to position their candidate as the “winner.”

Dealing with Social Media

Candidates have their own social media pages that are usually managed by a staffed Social Media Director. This election’s social media posts are filled with Facebook rally attendee photo albums, YouTube videos of candidate speeches, and Instagram photos with candidates and their supporters. As the PR pro, you must remember the focus is to maintain message and branding. Do not feed into trolling comments. The campaign communications team cannot control what others post on their social media, but they can control the responses made by the campaign and avoid making false claims or accusations. 

November does not seem that far away, considering how fast the political world moves. Just in two weeks, Super Tuesday will have passed and the Missouri presidential primaries will be here. Communications teams will be busy with their presidential candidate’s Get-Out-The-Vote efforts and any public appearances he or she plans to make in Missouri. That doesn’t even include preparing the Missouri candidates for their primaries in August. I mentioned the eyes-in-the-back-of- the-head thing, but did I mention the essential time-management skills? No? We’ll discuss that at another time—gotta run!

This post is courtesy of Stephanie Perry, public relations and social media specialist for Convenience Products. Stephanie is a member of the Missouri Conservative Coalition and a grassroots coordinator for various national and state political campaigns.She also serves on the communications committee of PRSA-St. Louis. Stephanie received a BA in communications from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. You can catch up with her on Twitter @sperry0111

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