Public relations and politics are naturally and inherently linked. Think back to the 2008 presidential race: A relatively unknown candidate, Barack Obama, seemed to emerge from nowhere, hitting front pages of magazines and grabbing newspaper headlines almost overnight. Add to that his very strategic and targeted social media efforts and, lo and behold, Obama was suddenly front and center and made his way straight to the White House as the 44th President of the United States.
How did this relatively unknown politician catapult himself with such amazing precision? In large part, he did it with the support of an exceptionally well-oiled public relations team.
Too often, political candidates support advertisements that push the envelope and attempt to smear opposing candidates’ campaigns. When these air, many of us cringe, as it feels a lot like underhanded pool. More believe that this practice is part and parcel to public relations – which it most certainly is not. Public relations as a practice is guided by a stringent code of ethics and is geared toward communicating those facts that allow for “informed decision making in a democratic society.”
It’s true that public relations pros have been called “spin doctors” and “flacks,” thanks to the careless decisions of a few misguided souls and poor practitioners, yet most PR professionals are just that: professional. Our goal is not to mislead or misrepresent; in fact, it’s the exact opposite. Our intent is to lead by example – by working with diverse publics (media, consumers, businesses, etc.) to educate them about various companies, products, brands, individuals, concepts, experiments, laws, legislation and more. By developing and tailoring messaging platforms and sharing them across targeted demographics, we educate. In politics, our role is even more relevant, as voters are more than just consumers; they are, in essence, stakeholders. Their opinions and decisions can help shape the laws, legislation and operation of our government, resulting in an even heavier responsibility on PR’s part to avoid any hint of mistruth or misconduct.
The three key areas in which public relations plays a role in politics are:
Let’s face it: Unless you are aware that a given individual is running for office, you likely wouldn’t cast a vote for him. Therefore, one of the main roles public relations plays in politics is the generation of knowledge about a candidate client. Whether through mass media placement, events or social media efforts, building awareness of the candidate’s name, party, platform and special areas of interest helps solidify his image in the minds of the general public. Candidates lacking public awareness certainly can’t win an election.
Once voters have a general awareness of a candidate, the rubber truly meets the road. A public relations professional must then keenly focus on properly educating voters about specifics related to the candidate. What does the candidate stand for? What does she support? What does she oppose? What is her background? What are her affiliations and causes? Public relations practitioners are responsible for translating all of these elements into easily understood and digestible concepts so that voters can more easily sort through the overwhelming amount of information they are bombarded with during campaign season. This is how we ensure a well-informed decision at the polls.
Finally, public relations professionals are integral to the process of persuasion. While we all hope for a charismatic, intelligent, well-versed and candid candidate, some may not come across as polished at all times. Public relations teams work directly with candidates to help them sharpen not only their messaging platforms, but also their presentation skills, body language, tone and tempo of delivery. Public speaking is challenging on its own, but add to that the pressure to recount limitless facts at a second’s notice and communicate them to a broad and diverse public, and even the best public speaker can use support in the art of persuasive communication. PR professionals help candidates understand what issues are ranking as most important so that they can respond efficiently and maximize their time. In the end, every candidate seeks to sway the polls in his favor and, to do so, he must be persuasive in the way he communicates his position on numerous issues, and he must do it in a way that endears diverse publics to himself. Of course it’s not an easy task.
Regardless of industry, public relations professionals are frequently called upon to help individuals, businesses and industries communicate information efficiently and effectively. The political arena, above many others, requires even greater precision, given the complex nature of legislation and the diversity of our great nation. When public relations is done well, the foundational beauty of our nation – freedom of choice – shines most brightly. To learn more about how PR can be of benefit to you or your industry, register for Axia Public Relations’ 60-Second Impact today.
Wendy Bulawa Agudelo has more than 15 years of experience in technology, business, consumer and non-profit public relations. In addition to serving on the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress PR Task Force, Wendy enjoys cooking and rooting for her favorite New England sports teams.
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