The Role of Public Relations in Politics is a monthly column written by WWPR member Margaret Mulvihill. Her column examines the role of PR in politics through history.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of Washington Women in Public Relations
DEFINITIONS AND CANDIDATES
This month, while thinking about the role of public relations in politics, I went back to the basics. I pulled the definitions of public relations, politics and the two largest political parties in the United States.
Public relations (PR) — the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization and the public (Wikipedia)
Politics — the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power (Google)
Democrat — a person who believes in or supports democracy (Merriam-Webster)
Republican — a person who believes in or supports a republican form of government (Merriam-Webster)
Independent — not subject to control by others, not affiliated with a larger controlling unit (Merriam-Webster)
MAKING A NAME FOR YOURSELF
So, Candidate, congratulations! The decision has been made, you have decided to run for public office. Whether that’s at the local, state or national level, the first thing you need to do is gain name recognition. Nobody can vote for you if they don’t know who you are, right? You may belong to a political party. You may be an Independent.
If you already identify with a political party, you may be ahead of the curve in that your message has already been crafted for you. You are now part of that party’s “party machine.” All you have to do is personalize the message and make it your own. Easy? Not so much. That very same party affiliation of yours is going to cause you many headaches as you launch your campaign.
Your party believes that illegal immigrants should be arrested at the border and returned to their homeland — your position is that each case is different. Your party believes that everyone is entitled to financial support in time of need — your position is that each case is different. Well, here you are on day one, already with a messaging dilemma.
GETTING AHEAD OF THE MESSAGE
You can get out there behind the party message, hoping no investigative journalist asks you any really deep questions about your own beliefs. By the way, in political circles, this honest questioning has become known as ‘gotcha’ journalism, and getting through a political campaign at any level without being asked tough questions is very unlikely! You may survive, Candidate, for some of your campaign, but you know it — at some point, some journalist or voter is going to put you on the spot.
The smartest thing to do, then, is to “get ahead of the message.” Find a way to lay the groundwork that while yes, you do believe in the basic tenets of your affiliated party, you are also a thinking person who reserves the right to disagree on various issues. You are ‘managing the spread of information’ between your campaign and your public.
It doesn’t stop there, Candidate. Your public is increasingly politically-aware. Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, et al, stream live into every home around the clock. Nobody is in awe of politicians anymore. Everyone who has a question to ask, will ask it. As you campaign, you need to answer every question honestly, and yet be aware of the downfalls of honesty! Someone is going to ask you a hard question as you campaign.
It is a minefield out there, on the campaign trail, in the television studio, sitting with a journalist. What can you do? You do the only thing you can do under the circumstances. You hire a media relations firm with a specialization in politics, to help you navigate that minefield. With the right person managing the dissemination of information for your campaign, and keeping you “on message,” you will have an easier route to your goal — that coveted public office, at a local, state or national level.
Choose wisely, and good luck!