This is part six of a seven-part series about running for public office.
Dealing with media in today’s campaign has become something of a double-time march. Although newer platforms certainly have not supplanted traditional print and broadcast, you are expected to add daily real-time conversations. And all of this creates more avenues through which to manage perceptions.
We discussed last time how important money is to your fledgling campaign, but you have to admit that without the right public presence, it will be nearly impossible to attract the additional donors you’ll need—let alone convince people to vote for you.
It’s a cycle that has to be planned and managed carefully, yet it must be supple enough to react quickly to daily changes—and it can’t obscure the main point.
What does "having a public presence" mean in 2014? When should you send out press releases? How important is that Pinterest board? Does anyone actually listen to terrestrial radio besides the daily handful of talk show yappers? There is a lot going on here.
Before you devise a communications strategy, you need a message that connects with voters "where they are," says Adam Lewis, chief political strategist with Strategic Resources. "Your message is not who you are; it is what you stand for and why you’re running."
"This isn’t your bio. If you’ve done your homework in making the decision to run, you should have a pretty good idea of the issues that matter most to voters. Don’t make your message complicated, and don’t make it about you," Lewis continues.
Where should you put that message? I’m amazed at how many campaigns forgo a proper website. There are many ways to supplement it, but this is your information hub. The search engine can be your friend, especially when it aims people’s browsers directly at your oh-so-handy "donate" button.
But let’s not get the cart before the horse. In order to want to click that button, I need to know why I should support your effort. And because I am in a hurry, I can’t be expected to read a treatise on your least favorite subsection of your least favorite law. Be succinct.
In addition to a good website, you need a media contact list. "Remember to include all types of media (newspapers, radio, bloggers, magazines, etc.)," Lewis says. Announce your campaign kickoff and subsequent events to as many journalists as you can, he says, adding, "You won’t always get coverage by doing this, but it never hurts." Include your synopsized message and a link to your website.
Social media channels and other dynamic communication modes increasingly have migrated from being important to being a necessity. Your website is crucial, but you need to interact with people in order to get them there.
Adrienne Royer, an online communications expert with congressional campaign experience, fittingly took to social media to supply a few campaign must-do's. Her No. 1 word of advice? Engage. Using social media for one-way communication is pointless. Rather, she says, "Talk to reporters via Twitter."
Lewis concurs on this aspect of media relations. "Make friends early in your campaign by reaching out to local members of the media. Let them know [you] would like to keep them informed about your campaign activities. They have a job to do, and anything you can do to help make that job easier is usually appreciated."
But of course it’s not just reporters that you need to talk to, even though you want to be among their interview subjects. The voting public needs to feel connected to you. Respond to their tweets and Facebook posts, Royer says. Retweet.
The number of social media services and apps fluctuates, and it can be difficult to gauge which will be the most effective. The stalwarts are Facebook (create a page—not a group—to separate your campaign from your kitten pictures), Twitter (tweet in first person, please) and YouTube (be careful here, as you only want to "go viral" in a good way).
Royer also emphasizes the use of pictures in your social media interactions, so Instagram or Flickr can be a good addition to your portfolio. (It should be a given you’re not going to take that how Anthony Weiner interpreted it, but just in case: No sexting.)
Here’s another no-brainer: Friend and follow people. I saw an established local politician post his campaign kickoff announcement on Twitter. It was seen by all of six people. He was following zero. There’s a causal relationship there. Don’t start an account and then just leave a months-old status to die on the vine.
You can see why so many campaigns hire professionals to manage all of this, but you can do pretty well on your own or with volunteers. Executing a full-fledged media strategy can use up a significant chunk of your budget, but there are also vitally important low-cost components, like style and attitude.
Proofread your content, and then get someone else to proofread it, too. You can’t overdo finicky when it comes to grammar and punctuation. Businesses are finding a correlation between poor grammar in their social media accounts and ebbing brand loyalty; and your brand as a candidate is no different.
Do all of this hard work with a smile. "Always be professional, but have a sense of humor," advises another tip from Royer. Or if a constant grin is not your thing, Daniel Ryan, a consultant who headed frontend Web development on President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, offers this tweet-worthy quip: "Be authentic, unless you’re crazy."
There will be days you’ll feel a little crazy. On those days, maybe it’s best to stick with your well-honed message. But whatever you do, don’t abandon the conversation.
Joe Lance shares his opinions on civic matters and politics from an impassioned but nonpartisan perspective. You are invited to follow both of his Twitter accounts (@tnticket or @joelance) or email him at email@example.com. The opinions expressed in this editorial belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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