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PR lessons from political campaigns

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The 2020 presidential campaigns are well underway. While political pundits, the news media and the general public are following the candidates’ comments and their campaigns’ operations, public relations and marketing professionals may also wish to follow their activities to glean lessons they can apply to their own campaigns. PR and marketing can also learn measurement lessons from political campaigns.

Analyze and Segment Audiences

Understanding that audiences are not monolithic, political campaigns target niche audiences. They target audiences based on demographics, geography as well as shared values and passions. They understand that accumulating substantial data about audience segments is critical for understanding how they will react to content that PR and marketing teams create, Aaron Guiterman, EVP and senior adviser for public affairs at Edelman, told PR Week.

Guiterman and other experts recommend these steps: test, optimize and test.

“Test the messaging, audience and media vehicle, optimize against what is performing best, and then rotate new approaches into the methodology,” Guiterman says. “This allows you to really understand at a granular level what’s working with what audiences so you can capitalize on that momentum while maximizing your ROI.”

Capitalize on Social Media Conversations

When protestors interrupted Biden’s Super Tuesday victory speech, Dr. Jill Biden and campaign advisor Symone Sanders, tackled protestors as they rushed the stage. By monitoring social media, the Biden campaign noticed that mentions of the incident spiked on Twitter, with many people praising the two women. Instead of attempting to cover up the poor security, the Biden campaign promptly noticed the trending topic and amplified the social media conversations. Symone Sanders tweeted: I broke a nail. #SuperTuesday

“Tweets like those about Dr. Biden and Symone Sanders took seconds to compose and the costs were minimal,” stated Laura Gross, president of Scott Circle Communications and a former DNC communicator, in PR News.

The tackling incident also generated favorable media coverage. A talk show noted that Symone Sanders had worked for Bernie Sanders in 2016, subtly promoting the Biden campaign’s goal of recruiting Berne Sanders supporters

While political campaigns are known for expensive advertising, the incident underscored the low-cost but valuable results of social media and earned media. “The Biden camp likely had no choice but to deploy this earned and social media strategy,” Gross says. “Working smart, with fewer resources, was its only option. Many PR pros can identify with this sentiment.”

Don’t Try to be Everything to Everyone

Chances are, nobody will like you if you try to please everyone, warns Eric Eisenhammer, CEO of Dauntless Communications, a political strategy and web development company, in Spin Sucks. President Trump understands this axiom and doesn’t hesitate to please supporters while alienating others.

What works for millennials posting on Instagram won’t work on national broadcast television. In another example, what persuades voters in Los Angeles won’t work in Placer County, located in California’s rural northern region where politicians wear jeans, boots and sometimes a cowboy hat.

“In short, know your audience well enough not to sound like an outsider,” Eisenhammer says. “And have a strong enough voice and message to risk some blowback.”

Plan Backwards

To win, a candidate needs at least 51% of electoral votes on Election Day.  Not today, but on Election Day, emphasizes Josh Weiss, president of 10 to 1Public Relations. They circle Election Day on the calendar and plan backwards to reach their goal. For example, if they had 40% of voters’ support and the election was 12 months away, if they increased the percentage 1% each month, they would reach 52% support on Election Day,

“When we first engage with a client, we want to know their end goal, and when they want to achieve that goal,” Weiss says. “We then plan backwards to get them there on time. It won’t happen the first month, but if we do our job right, we’ll get closer to their end goal every month and ultimately achieve our client’s desired result.”

Bottom Line: PR and marketing pros can adopt many tactics of political campaigns to improve results of their own campaigns.

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