Political PR: The Branding of a Person
The public relations industry is an umbrella for a myriad of communication specialties. It’s not hard to see why, given that virtually every business can utilize public relations in some way. But PR has never been limited to just businesses. From best-selling authors to movie stars and real estate tycoons, some of the best career moves have been to use strategic PR to create a personal brand. This makes for fascinating case studies in which adding the “Human Element” has the ability to launch a person and as a result their business or their cause. As this year’s political campaigns steadily heat to a boil, some of the most extreme examples of the success and failures of personal branding can be found in the public relations specialty of political PR. From the surface, the strategy and tactics may appear similar, but there are critical components that keep this particular field of communications uniquely challenging.
24/7 Brand Building – As a public relations specialist based in Pennsylvania’s capital region, a large percentage of my firm’s business is driven by politics. That’s not to pigeon-hole our services, but a level of specialty in political PR continues to develop with every year and every election. Working in this industry is not for the faint of heart or the 9-5ers. It’s for those who understand that building a personal brand for a politician occurs 24/7. Once a politician steps out of the office to enjoy an evening or weekend “off,” his personal brand is still very much on. How a candidate spends his time when he’s not obviously campaigning is arguably more important than how he spends his time when he is. A week’s worth of successful fundraisers and rallies filled with shaking hands and kissing babies can all be erased with one gaffe or YouTube clip. For political PR consultants this means these clients keep us on high alert and earn our attention all hours of the day. It also means strategic planning includes after-hour social events. It’s our job to monitor and influence public perception. And while at times this may feel like trying to control the wind, it all comes down to our ability to create an effective sail with which it can be harnessed and directed in our favor.
Being Human AND Being Perfect – A key element in political PR is humanizing your client. This isn’t to say they’re anything but human as is, but when a potential career path of high power and influence lay before you, it’s especially important to remain relatable to voters. To be human is to be flawed, right? So how do you make yourself more human while still remaining flawless? This is where PR specialists prove their worth. Every client you work with will have flaws, but it’s making these flaws work for him that becomes the real challenge. Family issues, questionable decisions and blemishes on a reputation are absolutely human. But, in a political race, these could become the mole hills that voters are made to believe are Mt. Everest. With proactive PR these weaknesses can be positioned as strengths. This is also a valuable opportunity to humanize your client. By having him be the first to address these issues and to do so head on, you disarm a potential scandal and turn a negative into a powerful positive. An ancient DUI charge or rumor of a health issue can all be reasons for a politician to step forward with a cause. This proactive approach adds to his humanity, his political platform and most importantly his personal brand.
Political Snowflakes – Calling political PR a “specialty” is quite accurate as every single client is truly special. While this may sound like a cheesy bumper sticker (and isn’t this type of work filled with enough), it’s deeper than it sounds. As a public relations consultant, every client has a reasonable degree of difference from all the rest. But political PR takes this to a whole new level. Every politician has his own platform, his own personality and his own unique political race that must be taken into account when crafting his PR strategy. No form or template can be used if you’re looking for the most effective results. It’s fitting to see them as political snowflakes. Each of my political clients is an entirely new challenge who warrants his own custom-made strategy. It requires knowing his specific votership, weaknesses, strengths and political platform – all of which are as unique as the person they represent.
There is no question that the political industry is a PR specialty. Even where degrees are offered in such a specific field, nothing can replace the knowledge gained from learning it as you live it. From 30+ year veterans to newly minted political enthusiasts, I don’t know one person who would call this industry simple or predictable. So while it may require a special skill set to handle such volatility – this aspect alone is what also fuels many of us to venture into the uncharted territory of political PR to begin with.
Outside the 2012 Republican National Convention–a mecca for political PR
Inside the 2012 RNC–Tampa Bay Times Forum
Stump Speeches – a staple to every political campaign