Last night, I along with millions of Americans tuned in to the first every Presidential debate to hear the candidate’s positions on healthcare, the economy and how they envision shaping the country.
As a publicist, I have a tendency to consume media in a different and more critical way than the general consumer. I often say that working in PR makes reading a magazine feel like your mom telling you there is no Santa Clause. We notice the placements, the messaging and how brands present themselves publicly. The debate was no exception. I was fascinated by the way that the media was discussing the debate. While a good portion of the coverage was around the actual issues, most of the coverage focused on how the candidates looked and the way that they presented themselves, proving that a good publicist could be the key to becoming President.
After scouring dozens of sources, I have pulled together a few things I learned about PR from the Presidential debate:
1. Presentation is Everything
Sixty percent of political analysts agree that Romney was the winner of last night’s debate, but the question remains, how much of what he was saying is true? According to fact checkers Romney lied 27 times during last nights debate, yet his attitude and presentation allowed him to win the debate.
I am not here to debate, which candidate lied most about what but I think there is a really interesting PR lesson here. What is it? People don’t just listen to what you say, they listen to how you say it. Most people recognize that politicians often over promise and most consumers go into debates assuming that not everything said during the debate will be true. (it’s why we have fact checkers, no?) Consumers also recognize that brands typically over promise in their product claims but when presented in the right way, consumers are forgiving.
Why do people buy Old Spice? Is it because it is the best deodorant in the world or is it because the way they message their product entertains you so much that you aren’t as concerned with wanting the best product?
When it comes to messaging, presentation is everything.
2. A Strong Community Allows You to Choose What to Respond to
Many people were surprised that Obama didn’t mention the 47% comment that recently drove a storm of negative media around Romney. In the 2008 election Obama built a massive community of young activists and Democrat supporters that weren’t just supporting his campaign but advocating for it. It was this community that drove much of the conversation and critique of Romney’s comment, which in turn drove major media coverage. It would have been easy for Obama to comment on Romney’s 47% comment but he didn’t need to because his community already had.
If a competitor makes a mistake, the best thing you can do is continuing doing what you do well. Consumers that are looking for an alternative to their competitor will find you and you are more likely to bring them in by showing what you do well than by commenting on what your competitors does poorly.
3. Humor Wins Hearts
The most talked about comment from last night’s debate has been around Romney’s love of Big Bird. With that one comment, Big Bird began trending on Twitter.
The lesson? Weave in messaging and humor that will naturally drive buzz in social media and in turn drive media coverage. Romney mentioning Big Bird allowed him to communicate his platform in a way that also highlighted his fun-natured personality.
4. It’s not about campaigns. It’s about consistency.
While the debate only lasted an hour and a half, the conversation lasted much longer. Consumers were commenting on the way the candidates interacted after the debate, they were commenting on the way that the candidates families talked about the debate and stood on stage with them.
Even when your campaign ends and your goals are met, the race doesn’t stop. Consumers are watching you to make sure that the messaging you are delivering them is consistent with the way you do things.
Consistency is key.
PR girls, what did you learn from the debate? What lessons have you taken away from all of the campaign media?