Like many PR professionals, I love an election year. The communications strategies embody what Michelle Han calls a “vote for me” story (or, as I like to think of it, the Coke vs. Pepsi angle.) And though midterms aren’t usually very interesting, with control of the Senate up for grabs, this year is different. Many races are too close to call, and every move is magnified.
The most effective campaigns won’t be known until the votes are counted, but PR professionals can often learn from election-year PR. Unfortunately, it’s mostly about what NOT to do, given the bitter partisan flavor of most campaigns and the positions that divide us. But as candidates fight it out in local markets, we get a glimpse of many classic PR tactical moves, from bad optics to great applause lines, to real-time marketing. A recent example includes featuring the ISIL murders in campaign ads (an appalling strategy which I hope will backfire.)
It all adds up to one thing – media are training cynical eyes on campaign communications, which makes it more challenging for “everyday” news to break through. How can non-political businesses and brands get in on the action? No one wants to be partisan, but there are some election-year issues that PR professionals can use to tell client stories.
Jobs. Even with the unemployment rate sinking, they’re still a top issue. Many of our clients are retailers, and holiday hiring, as well as longer-term plans, are often story fodder. A startup company with a proprietary “big data” processing technology can even own a piece of the jobs issue; in their case, there are simply aren’t enough data engineers to accommodate technology growth, which brings us to the next topic.
Education. Another key domestic issue that, while not without controversy, tends to unite us more than it divides. One of our clients, for example, supports arts education, which as a somewhat forgotten part of the curriculum, has been mediaworthy. And there’s no hotter story than science and technology education, particularly when it comes to girls and women.
International affairs. Given our increasingly interconnected economy, even businesses without an international footprint can be buffeted by changes in other nations. Problem is, much of the news from abroad is negative, like the recession that threatens to drag down U.S. company earnings. Better strategies include looking for a new market entry, a unique take on news developments in key capitals, or a strong point of view about a global issue – all can differentiate a business.
Ebola. Skilled and tasteful “newsjacking” of current events, where there’s a legitimate connection to be made, can be a winning strategy. But not for this headline-making story, unless your company is sending volunteers to the stricken parts of Western Africa, or has discovered a path to a vaccine. Yes, it’s become a campaign issue for some candidates, but don’t try this one at home, kids.