What PR Can Learn from the Tea Party

Dec 13, 2010 Beth Monaghan

There is a lot we can learn from the Tea Party outside of election politics, but I will come back to this in a few paragraphs. A few months ago, I was honored when Business Insider asked me contribute posts from blog. A number of my posts have been syndicated now and one thing is true for all of them – my headlines always get changed. I don’t mind because as a PR person, I appreciate the value of a good headline. Inevitably, theirs are a bit more sensational and I believe that they have helped me get more readers than I would have otherwise. I’ll give you one example:

Mine: “Make Hay While the Sun Shines”

Business Insider’s: “10 Lessons I’ve Learned Since Quitting My Paying Job”

I’ve written here before on the topic of creative and compelling headlines and believe strongly in their value. As Twitter becomes a veritable news aggregator for many of us, the importance of headlines has never been greater. Recently, @MrMediaTraining (Brad Phillips of Phillips Media Relations) tweeted this: “Why You Should Never Return a Reporter's Call By His/Her Deadline.” I immediately clicked on it because it sounded like bad advice. However, after reading the post I learned that he was advocating for spokespeople to call reporters back well before their deadlines so that they could play a part in shaping the story. Great advice and great headline – it worked.

This got me thinking about the nature of news consumption. In an age of 140 characters, smartphones, iPads and RSS feeds, have headlines begun to skew our perspectives on what is news? And on what is important and pervasive? You might read 100 headlines for every two the three full-length articles.

During this past mid-term election, I could not get away from coverage about the Tea Party (no one could), but was the news coverage proportionate to the party’s prominence? I cannot imagine it was. In a November 3 article, Brian Stelter of The New York Times wrote, “The rapid rise of the Tea Party also gave networks an overarching theme for election night coverage. Television oftentimes favors colorful characters over substantive issues, and thanks in no small part to the conservative movement, a new cast filled TV screens and Web sites on Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning.”

The Tea Party just understood a fundamental PR principle – controversy breeds interest. This is an important lesson for companies looking to raise their visibility. To rise above the din, you must say something contrarian, controversial or extraordinarily interesting. Controversy is certainly not the proper path for every company, but an exercise in identifying the things that make you different in ways that actually matter is critical if you want your target audiences to pay attention.

Topics: Messaging, Public Relations
Beth Monaghan

Beth is the CEO of InkHouse, which she co-founded in 2007 and has grown into one of the top ranked agencies in the country. Beth’s been recognized as one of the Top Women in PR by PR News, the Top 25 Innovators by The Holmes Report and as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist. Beth believes that shared values, and the freedom to create are the foundations of all meaningful work. She brings this philosophy to building a culture of creative progress at InkHouse.

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