Tips for Political PR

The 2016 Race: A Deusy with Lots of Rapid Response Lessons

By Andrew Blum*

The 2016 presidential campaign has put a new focus on what it means to do rapid response in PR and political PR. In large part, we have Donald Trump and Twitter to thank for that.

Trump has rewritten the rules of running for president and communicating his message.

Hillary Clinton, as the first woman nominee of a major party, has a good PR message but at times in the campaign she and her message have seemed like footnotes to Trump.

The old joking PR axiom of just “spell my name right” seems to be a new reality. Whatever comes out of Trump’s mouth finds an audience. While many of his gaffes and rebukes would have killed other campaigns, he keeps on ticking. Will others follow his strategy in the future?

So what are the “new rules,” as Bill Maher would say?

Three Political PR Tips

First, rapid response on social media and the news media is the new normal – even more so than in past elections. With Trump making Twitter the new TV, everyone has to follow him and in the case of the Clinton campaign, respond and respond quickly. So, today your social media team has to be truely 24/7 ready even at 3 a.m. and to be fully synched with the political and PR teams.

Second, always have a plan in place for the unexpected that is designed to take you off your game. In the first debate, Trump lost when he didn’t respond well enough and quick enough to what Clinton said. Here is an example where PR must outdo the politics of the event – a political event like a debate can turn into a PR disaster. At the same time, expect that any comment – even a private one or one at a fundraiser – will eventually be leaked. Have a PR plan to address those. Revisit your PR plan often and tweak it where needed.

Third, in past national elections, TV was clearly the king. But today, Twitter shares that throne.  In fact, TV and Twitter now have a lot of interplay: a tweet can wind up on a TV show and a TV clip can go viral on Twitter. Using a monitoring service like Critical Mention, which gives real-time alerts of mentions in both channels, is a best practice that all PR professionals, inside politics and out, can adopt.

Like him or hate him, Trump has redefined politics and PR with his communications style. Damage control and rapid responses on steroids have become the 2016 norm. One has to wonder if PR generally will adopt his tactics and whether the Trump effect will be a lasting one.

So, to paraphrase Trump, has this campaign been the “greatest and “fabulous” or are the political, media and PR changes he has brought about a one-election event?

*Andrew Blum is a PR consultant and media trainer and principal of AJB Communications. He has directed PR for public affairs clients, professional services and financial services firms, NGOs, agencies and other clients. As a PR executive, and formerly as a journalist, he has been involved on both sides of the media aisle in some of the most media intensive crises of the past 25 years. Contact him at ajbcomms@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms.

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