What Politicians can Teach You About PR

By Vanessa Wakeman

politicsConfession: my interest in politics has grown 10-fold since I became involved in the public relations field. I’m fascinated by the messaging, the crisis management and the gaffes that are played out on a national stage as candidates jockey for their position.

In fact, during media coaching sessions with clients, I often encourage them to watch a political debate or follow a particular candidate’s campaign to find examples of what to do and what to never do. We are now officially one year away from the Presidential election and I am confident, from what we are seeing so far from the GOP that there will be many, many teachable moments that PR pros and spokespeople alike can learn from.

You may not agree with their message, but oftentimes you can recite the platform for the candidates, which is a sign that they have mastered how to communicate.

Here are a few simple tips from the politicos that anyone can apply to help sharpen their PR skills:

  • Say what? No matter how savvy the spokespeople for you organization are, it is important that proper time is given to craft the message. Rarely will you have the luxury of knowing the exact questions that the reporter will ask you before the interview. Instead of focusing on this, think about the three key messages you would like to share and spend some time crafting them so that they fit well with the interview.
  • Take a bridge. Don’t you love it when the interviewer asks a question and somehow the candidate transitions from the question to the topic that they want to talk about. This is called bridging. When you are being interviewed, you can use the bridge technique to incorporate key message points into your response. Example: Are you against raising the minimum wage? Answer: Minimum wage is an important topic [Note: this doesn’t answer the question]. [BRIDGE] One of the reasons I’m kicking off my 25-city town hall is to share my ideas about how to get the country working again.
  • Use your numbers. Numbers are powerful. During your interview use facts and figures to back up your claim. Don’t present so much data that it is overwhelming but find 1 or 2 powerful statements to help present your case. You’ll be surprised at how many people can remember these simple tidbits.
  • Quote me. A reporter can interview many sources for a story and not everyone will always make the final cut. Make sure that you do get included by offering a few sound bytes; energy charged quotes that help to bring life to the story that the reporter simply can’t live without.
  • Be quick, fast and in a hurry. If you find yourself in the midst of a scandal the best way to handle it is to issue a comment immediately and be honest. Declining comment gives people reason to doubt you and often leads to a public perception of guilt. Issue a statement, tell the truth, apologize if necessary and let your public know what they can expect next.

Over the next 12 months, I’ll be chiming in with my two cents on what’s happening with the Presidential election. Think of it as your official election coverage, with a PR spin of course.

Would love to hear your thoughts as the campaigns go forward. Send me an email at vwakeman [at] thewakemanagency.com