5 PR Takeaways from the Political Conventions

Sep 10, 2012 admin

Clint Eastwood at the Republican National Convention. Photo credit: By H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY

Election season is in full swing and a thread of political dialogue will no doubt weave its way into most news broadcasts from now through November. You may have caught full blown election fever yourself after tuning in for notable speeches from the candidates, their spouses and Hollywood elite, including Clint Eastwood and his infamous empty chair.

This year’s conventions provided plenty of fodder for pundits who analyze every move made and each word spoken at the DNC and RNC. But the pundits aren’t the only ones analyzing the conventions. As a PR practitioner, the elections appeal to me just as much for the politics as for the real-time, high-stakes case studies they provide on how to (or how not to) stay on message, build an image, connect with your audience and deliver powerful sound bites.

Here are 5 key PR takeaways gleaned from the recent events of the RNC and DNC:

1. Timing is everything. Clint Eastwood took the stage at the RNC prior to Mitt Romney’s speech to provide some star power and energize the crowd. But he decided to go rogue and his bizarre act is what made headlines, not Romney’s speech which was completely upstaged.

Timing of unpredictable events cannot be planned but there are steps you can take to avoid being upstaged in the world of PR. Avoiding announcements during peak news-packed days is one way to ensure your client’s product launch won’t be left in the dust by the latest and greatest product news from Apple.

2. Authenticity wins. Michelle Obama and Ann Romney were lauded for their speeches and their ability to tell stories that linked their husbands as people to policy issues. Being authentic lent credibility to their husbands and made each candidate feel more accessible to the average voter.

In the world of PR, social media has leveled the playing field making everyone from celebrities to CEOs more accessible to the masses. Those who succeed in social media are rooted in authenticity. For tips on how CEOs can be more authentic and get started in social media, follow these tips from the ghost of Emily Post.

3. Deliver a memorable sound bite. A successful convention speech delivers a one-liner that makes headlines, energizes voters and helps define a campaign. Bill Clinton had ‘read my lips’ and ‘for those who work hard and play by the rules’ in 1992. But Mitt Romney emerged without a memorable sound bite at a time when he needed one to compete with the invisible chair.

Speaking in sound bites is crucial in PR in order to crisply convey your key messages. Advise clients to write them down and practice them before interviews. If a reporter asks at the end of an interview if you have anything more to add, be sure it’s one of your sound bites that could wind up as the headline of the story.

4. Stay on script. Veering off track can be a major distraction during a speech so vetting often plays a crucial role during the conventions. No wonder Obama’s camp was concerned when former President Bill Clinton, famous for rambling off course in the past, didn’t submit a copy of his DNC speech until the last minute.

In PR, don’t underestimate the power of media training in helping a client stay on message during interviews. Media training can even be incorporated into daily life vs. coaching only before major interviews. Here are some tips for learning to love media training.

5. Respect images as much as words. Obama’s DNC speech was moved indoors, citing weather concerns, while critics argue that he simply couldn’t fill the larger outdoor venue. No one wants an empty arena to be the backdrop for accepting the party’s nomination – or to have the weather be a distraction.

Consider how images can help or hurt in PR and the implications of social photo sharing. A staged photograph may be issued over the wire but what about the thousands that will be taken at the event and shared on social media? If you’ve never considered how to use photo sharing for company news or announcements, Jen shares some tips on how to get started with Instagram.

The presidential debates are next and will take center stage in October. All eyes are on the candidates this time, not on their wives or an empty chair. Hopefully they are practicing their sound bites. We’ll all be looking for the next ‘read my lips’ headline to emerge.

Topics: Messaging, Public Relations, Social Media

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