Sunday, September 27, 2009

Guest Editorial - Why All Candidates Need PR

By Jube Dankworth - Net Media Consultants -

Why All Political Candidates, Local to National, Need a Public Relations Professional

Although most candidates and all politicians believe they are immortal, the truth of the matter is we are all besieged with human tendencies, just ask Governor Sanford. When Immortals go into battle, they need a Watcher –someone to watch their backs. Unlike the Watchers in the famous Highlander saga, the politician’s Watcher – his or her Public Relations Professional – is (or should be) involved in the Immortal’s strategy and planning before the battle. These savvy communications pros evaluate and improve the Immortal’s performance before the next battle. They manage the staging (what is behind the candidate, who is around the candidate and what the candidate is wearing), the message and the conditions of each encounter with the media and the public.

Okay, I know what you are saying, that’s the job of the Chief of Staff, the campaign manager or the campaign consultant. However, most Chiefs of Staff, most campaign managers and especially most political consultants do not understand public relations – at least not from a public relations point of view; they see everything only through their political glasses, and miss great opportunities for good PR (and often overlook impending gotcha moments). They understand the battlefield. They know which precinct chairs, state party leaders and activists are on their candidate's side and which ones are not. They know what it takes to change those views. They know the fund raisers and who has the best coffees and cocktail parties. They know the field. Their job is to set the strategy for the campaign and implement it.

However, having a public relations professional on the team is similar to having an extra general on the battlefield. The PR Pros can keep an eye on the whole field while the consultant and manager are in the field with the troops, in contact with the enemy. The PR Pro can see counterattacks coming in – and they understand when a strategic move for the campaign is not a good move for the candidate, or when a seemingly clever gimmick has the potential to blow up in their faces, thanks to the ever-watchful “gotcha” media. A good Public Relations Professional would never have allowed Governor Palin to have 3 interviews with Katie Couric, no matter what the campaign folks thought – and a good PR pro would have cautioned Michele Obama to leave her $6,000 purse at home That pro would have also pointed out that an unannounced fly-over of Manhattan would be a media disaster of the first order.

Even working with local candidates, a good Public Relations Professional can enhance the campaign while keeping the candidate out of trouble. Public relations has its own timetable for events and media contacts, and a PR expert with a keen sense of the media’s schedule knows where a candidate’s message can fit into a breaking news trend or how it can dovetail with a local group’s cause, movement or event. With these extra tools, candidates will attend events and talk to groups outside the normal political box of events, all while avoiding costly mistakes.

A Public Relations Professional would also create a “war room” fast-response team whose job it would be to keep tabs on negative reports on the candidate, both in the regular media as well as blogs, social media and websites. By finding and addressing this sort of negative publicity when they first begin, the Public Relations Professional can avert many media storms that would otherwise sideline a candidate. A positive response in the same news cycle can kill bad publicity – but a day-late denial only sounds defensive, and prolongs a story instead of burying it.

If you are an Immortal – a political candidate or office-holder about to mount up for the fight – consider the ramifications … then find a good, savvy Public Relations Professional who believes in your cause and can help you win the fight. After all there can be only one.