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PR Lessons From The Primaries

pr election lessonsThe first New York primary to matter in years takes place this week, and the public relations world is judging how the candidates are managing (or not) their communications. The timing provides a good opportunity to take a look at how the two Democrats and three Republicans are doing, from a PR perspective. Here are some lessons from which we can all learn something:

Slogans will get you far…but  not far enough. Sure, Bernie Sanders sounds authoritative and bold when he calls out Hillary Clinton for her ties to big banks. But that accusation carries less weight when he is unable to back it up with an example of how these ties resulted in any special favors while Clinton served. In PR, best practices always call for anecdotes, data and other ways to support a claim.

When in doubt, circle back. Who really knows what was in Donald Trump’s head when he chose to advocate (and then back away from) punishment for women seeking abortions. But, our counsel would always be to hedge on a question you’re unsure of with some classic media training techniques, such as thoughtfully acknowledging the question but asking for time to study the issue. Sure, you’ll take heat for not being prepared, but it’s better than having to walk back a response.

Don’t mess with the message. It has been reported that when addressing Manhattan donors, Ted Cruz strikes a more moderate and inclusive tone on social issues than he did when speaking to Iowa audiences.  In an era where a politician’s every word is captured and parsed on social media, this may seriously backfire for the archly conservative Cruz. In PR, we spend countless hours making sure key messages are honed, polished and adhered to, lest a spokesperson stray and give the media something that could damage a brand or call a business practice into question.

Seek to “disrupt.” If you are John Kasich about whom the New York Times recently said, “…if you laboratory-grew a Republican politician to win a presidential election in the current political climate, he would probably look a lot like Kasich,” and you were still dismally behind the other two candidates, what would be a game plan? How about aiming to prevent the leaders from emerging victorious by disrupting their candidacy and siphoning off delegates? This plan may keep Kasich alive long enough to accrue some wins. It’s certainly kept him alive in the press.

Get ahead of an issue when you can. Maybe Hillary Clinton didn’t know that Bernie Sanders was never going to let go of his request for her “big bank” speech transcripts…but she should have. And, like many a politician or corporate executive before her, the smart money says get out ahead of a potentially damaging issue when it’s still small. Now, the call to turn over the transcripts has become a rallying cry that could have been prevented.

This election season promises to continue to be a gold mine of important PR lessons and we will continue to report on them.

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