Can PR Rebrand Hillary Clinton? Advice From Millennials

Does Hillary Clinton need to refresh her brand? Can brand marketing PR and social media strategies help?

In announcing his own candidacy, GOP hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio took a none-too-subtle swipe at Mrs. Clinton by declaring, “Yesterday’s over.”

Ouch. It’s true that the 67-year-old Mrs. Clinton is a familiar brand – some would say too familiar. One marketing consultant compared her image to that of McDonald’s – worn, tired and beset by

challenges from newer and fresher competitors.
But Mrs. Clinton has only just begun her campaign, and her team has already assembled a creative brain trust of marketing talent to help represent her to the voting public and ensure relevance as the GOP field of hopefuls grows.

Pundits are falling over themselves to offer counsel, so why shouldn’t we? Given the importance of the millennial sector, I polled some staff members and colleagues about what advice they would offer Mrs. Clinton and distilled the details into some PR-driven branding techniques.

Repackage the product. Some millennials feel Mrs. Clinton should take a cue from Michelle Obama and begin to wear up-and-coming designer clothes and a new, youthful hairstyle. An update isn’t a bad idea, but any radical change is bound to distract from the Clinton 5.0 message and could make her look insecure. In my view, a Clinton makeover should start from within.

Find your true voice. Authenticity is everything in communications, right? With the help of branding gurus Wendy Clark and Roy Spence, Mrs. Clinton needs to home in on why she’s worthy of becoming the next chief executive and what her brand promise is. If, as her speeches suggest, it’s about income inequality and economic fairness for ordinary Americans, she needs to move away from the perception of entitlement and differentiate from GOP candidates who are already trying to own the issue.

Build bridges to key constituencies. A good way to tap into America’s future leaders – while creating new voters in the process – might be an advisory board comprised of college students. This might dovetail nicely with her ideas about the affordability of education, employment trends, and hot-button issues like STEM and LGBT rights.

Engage on social media. Obviously @HillaryClinton has an impressive social following, including nearly 3.4 million Twitter followers. But as one millennial staffer here points out, “Her content is too hard-sell and hence, dull and scripted. Also, what is up with her only following 14 people on Twitter and zero people on Instagram?” A more inclusive social strategy may be called for to reflect her focus on fairness for ordinary Americans.

Create fresh content. Stump speeches are fine, but what about tackling intergenerational topics through a mother-daughter blog with Chelsea? A Buzzfeed listicle on the top ways to address domestic problems? Regular infographics that explain complex issues like banking regulation or the history of ISIS? A short video series featuring the ordinary Americans she meets at campaign stops?

There’s no shortage of advice for Mrs. Clinton, and I take issue with the notion that a presidential candidate is like a fast-food brand. But, just as Barack Obama triumphed by mastering digital and social marketing and creating new voters, the next president of the U.S. will need to apply new communications tactics informed by classic brand marketing strategy.

What PR Pros Can Learn From Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton is on the campaign, er, book promotion trail, and whether you love her or hate her, PR practitioners should listen up! Mrs. Clinton is a smooth operator in the interviewee chair. Here are some examples of her expertise that can be applied when managing B2B or consumer PR clients.

Skirting the awkward or negative. Last night  Clinton spoke with Diane Sawyer, who asked how the public should view “Bill and Hill’s” rich speaking fees in light of the stagnant economy and plight of many Americans. The former Secretary answered as easily and smoothly as if the question had been, “Care for more tea?” The Clintons may not have left the White House “broke,” as she put it, but there was an assuredness to her unwavering and detailed response.
There is an art to the cool, unruffled rejoinder that PR agency folk should adopt for difficult conversations with clients, colleagues or press. Client spokespeople can adopt this practice as well. It begins with picturing the conversation in your head and writing down key points. It’s helpful to try out some phrases with someone you trust and employ your own relaxation techniques to stay focused. Easy, right?

Pointed but never nasty.  This morning Renee Montagne of NPR began her interview by stating that Clinton’s new book, “Hard Choices” was a “classic campaign book.”  Unwilling to let it slide, Mrs. Clinton said in a very kind but authoritative voice, “Oh, I disagree!” Then began her perfectly positioned argument that a campaign book looks forward while her book reflected on the past, revealing untold stories behind key decisions. And Renee dropped that line of questioning and moved right along. The lesson here is an old and obvious one; you get more with honey than vinegar.

Deflecting by association? Asked about any guilt she may have over lives tragically lost at Benghazi, the former secretary paused and acknowledged the grief she feels over the incident and then traced an arc of previous Secretaries of State who each suffered the loss of American (and other) lives while making their own “hard choices.” This was a masterfully employed strategy: place yourself in respected company, acknowledge the legacies of each, and deflect the negative as “cost of doing business,” even for this exalted group. This approach has less chance of working for a PR professional or a client, but should you find yourself or your client in a crisis situation, knowing and understanding some of the history of the issues is always helpful.

Taking the high road. Mrs. Clinton had the opportunity to address Monica Lewinksy and could have chosen to chastise, dismiss, or edit history. Instead, she did the expected and articulated a reasonably compassionate, but brief, comment about the woman who nearly brought down her husband’s presidency. She even gave her a little advice, saying “I hope that she is able to think about her future and construct a life that she finds meaning and satisfaction in.” By taking the high road, Mrs. Clinton diminished the importance of the question and came off as a smart, caring individual. Or, at least a very well-prepared one.

PR Move of the Week: Hillary Clinton (Hillz)

Hillary has become cool.

That’s right, the Hillary Clinton who struggled through grueling Democratic primaries in 2008, only lose the ultimate prize to the maddeningly unruffled new guy, seems to be having the last laugh. And we thought Obama was the cool one.

It started when two Hillary fans, PR specialists Stacy Lambe and Adam Smith, created the Tumblr page “Texts from Hillary.” Inspired by an iconic photo of Clinton taken by Time photographer Diana Walker, the blog extends the photo’s faintly badass aura of quiet power. It features fictitious texts between Mrs. Clinton and her colleagues and frenemies where she calmly shows her dominance (or as the blog puts it, that she’s the HBIC.) There’s even a “meme meets meme” exchange between her and Internet darling Ryan Gosling in which he texts,”hey, girl,” and she snaps, “It’s Madam Secretary.”

“Texts from Hillary” was already interesting, but what tipped it into mass consciousness in only a few days was Secretary Clinton’s own reaction. Rather than ignoring it, laughing it off privately, or trying to shut it down, she whipped out some texts of her own. On Tuesday she was photographed with Lambe and Smith at the State Department.

The real-faux text from the Secretary read: “Sup Adam. Nice Selfie Stace:-)” (a reference to Lambe’s smartphone pic) and ended with, “ROFL @ ur tumblr! G2g-Scrunchie time. Ttyl?”

Okay, so maybe she had help from her staff, but the response is pretty unexpected from the pantsuit-clad, scrunchie-wearing Clinton that we take for granted. In fact, my favorite touch is the scrunchie mention, which pokes fun at recent criticisms of Clinton’s unfashionable hair ties. But the whole thing is hil-arious, and it makes a nice contrast between Secretary Clinton and her onetime rival President Obama as the dismal and depressing 2012 presidential campaign gains steam.

The Hillz meme has been so successful, in fact, that it’s revived rumors about a Clinton presidential run in 2016. But as Mrs. Clinton (and her staff) have undoubtedly learned, America most loves and admires her when she plays hard to get. So, I’m betting Madam Secretary keeps on running the world from behind her big shades and her mobile, keeping her own counsel and staying cool.