The Role of Public Relations in Politics is a monthly column written by WWPR member Margaret Mulvihill, examining the role of PR in politics.
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
DOES PR STILL HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY IN POLITICS?
I pose this question in good faith. The past few months have been very difficult in the political world. There has been no shortage of transformative issues coming to the surface by unlikely means. Let’s see – there’s that whole white supremacy discussion practically taking over social media, pitting colleagues, friends and family members against each other. Then there’s that ongoing debate about immigration, now centered like a storm cloud around President Obama following his executive action to ease the hardship endured by some immigrants already living here illegally. The ACA continues to be a hot-button issue – also known as ‘Obamacare’; and to top it all off, this week, a GOP staffer was forced to resign because of disrespectful remarks she posted on social media about the Obama girls. Yes, no shortage of issues here, no shortage of crises. But does PR have any role to play?
Let’s look at that white supremacy thing. If you’re not sure what that’s all about, or where the latest hot-spot is, google ‘Ferguson,’ or type #ferguson in twitter. Since the police shooting of unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, the world has been watching in horror as events continue to show the racist make-up of the Ferguson police force. The prosecutor Robert McCulloch, and the Governor Jay Nixon, along with various other city officials, have done little to help alleviate that racist image.
The Ferguson officials did engage a public/media relations team. Clearly, that did not help matters. The engagement itself was too transparent, and the actual campaign seemed designed not to alleviate racial tension, but to explain the need for ‘Use of Force’ by police against ‘thugs.’ Instant #PRFail.
What would you have done? Hopefully, you would have done what I would have done. Defuse the situation by bringing the moderates of both sides together, to engage in a meaningful discussion about the specific issue at hand – the killing of Michael Brown, an African American, by white police office, Darren Wilson. I would not have allowed the radicals on either side a voice. Regardless of my personal feelings on the injustice served to the Brown family, I would have focused only on defusing that one specific racial incident. The whole issue of race in this country is too big to be tackled in one chunk by any pr/media relations shop.
IMMIGRATION, THE ACA, AND THE PRESIDENT
On the whole immigration mess, I would like to ask the President one question: Didn’t you learn anything from the bungled Affordable Care Act? The man is a walking disaster when it comes to public and media relations. How could it be so hard to sit down with a good PR firm – not your own in-house staffers – and hammer out a message? It’s not that hard to do. Craft the message, and stick to the message. Get a buy-in from someone on the other side of the political spectrum. Then get your message out there – but don’t abandon it. Social media has turned traditional pr on its head. Clever people can take your message and shred it. Social media needs constant monitoring to make sure that your message is not being diluted, or becoming an object of humor, or ridicule. Call me next time, okay?
There is nothing fair and balanced about communications and social media. When you’re in communications, you do not have a private social media account, on any platform. Anything you write in your personal capacity will be picked up and picked over, leaving you exposed and vulnerable to the prevailing winds in Washington. Elizabeth Lauten, this time last week, was Rep. Stephen Fincher’s (R-Tenn.) communications director. This week, she had no option but to resign. Why? She didn’t like the way the Obama girls were dressed at the Turkey Pardon. She didn’t like their attitude. She didn’t like their parents. Well for heaven’s sakes, why would she? She’s clearly not a Democrat, working as she was for a Republican representative! Could PR/media relations have done anything to save her job? No. Not in this instance. The comments were made in the public arena, and quickly went viral.
Having thought about this a good deal, I would answer myself with a resounding YES.
Yes, PR does indeed have a role to play in politics, and I hope you agree too! Have a wonderful holiday season, and may 2015 bring nothing but the best of PR opportunities.