The experience of being a communication strategist on the campaign trail is a dream for those of us that enjoy politics. There are a number of factors that have to be taken into consideration in order to craft a successful communication strategy that lines up with the platform of the candidate and the best way to reach the constituents. Campaigning today is not what it used to be. The idea of shaking the most hands and kissing the most babies is good, but it is not a complete strategy.
Before one develops any type of communication strategy, the candidate must truly know where they stand on the issues that matter most to his/her community. Having a full and authentic understanding of what the candidate believes in will allow for the communication strategy to be built in a way that the messaging will not have to change drastically while on the campaign trail. Strong pivots in messaging tend to confuse potential voters. It also makes those that are on the fence uncertain if they can count on the candidate to be strong on the issues if the flounder to what seems to be the hot topic.
- A strong candidate needs a strong team. It was obvious to me that even as strong as a candidate may be, the team matters. The candidate needs to have people that can do the research and analyze the data in the background so that messaging is accurate and resonating with constituents. I may be biased, but besides fundraising, the Director of Communications may be one of the most important hires that a candidate will make. This individual will observe the campaign from a totally different perspective than anyone on the team. One must have someone that understands how to read the audience, develop a strategy on framing the message, and properly evaluate the candidate’s performance when delivering the message.
- One must understand the concerns of their voting community. Communication 101 is understanding your target audience. As a candidate runs for election, they must understand the top concerns of their constituency. It’s important not to be too far swayed by what those outside of the voting district may think, but to truly listen to what the residents are saying they need from their representative. It is hard to evaluate the voting population when a candidate is in a special election, but I have found that the quickest way to do this is to find out who the movers and shakers are in the community. Find out who the individuals are that touch a lot of people, meet with these individuals and learn from them all that you can about the community. Do not assume that you know all that there is to know about the residents of the community.
- It’s important to create Brand Ambassadors. Yes, Mr/Mrs Candidate you are now a brand. In making that distinction, it is important to understand how to spread the word about your brand. It is difficult to spend time with each and every voter in one’s district or voting population, but ambassadors will be able to speak up on your behalf if properly trained. Using social media strategically is another way that a campaign can find brand ambassadors. As much as one may push out content on social media, one can also see who is speaking up the most about them accurately. The campaign can offer volunteer training workshops, have a virtual training, and create social media toolkits for these ambassadors to use as they help you spread the word.
- Technology is an important tool to gather DATA. Accurate data collection is key to success. Hilary Clinton mentioned in her book, What Happened, that some of their data may not always have been accurate. She also mentioned that she leaned towards the old fashion way of campaigning (shaking hands and giving stump speeches to small crowds), but knew that she had to embrace this new era of what it takes to win an election. Reach out to other campaigns and see what type of technology they are using, conduct research on the latest tools that can be used to manage a campaign, and check back to our blog as this will be the focus of one of our next blog post.
- Meet people where they are. By this, we mean that you must understand where your constituents are, and this takes a deep level of knowledge on who makes up your voting constituency. If you have an older more mature constituency, then you may want to be heavier of meet-n-greets and email. If you have a young constituency, your social media and text messaging strategy will need to be strong and take the lead over the traditional modes of communication. Some may say that the volume of times that a constituent is reached out to may turn them off, but there isn’t data from a notable source to support this theory.
You don’t have to take our word for what to consider in your campaign communication strategy. Here are a few suggestions from others that have also lived on the inside of a campaign.
“Everyone, from constituents to party members, will tell you how things should be done if you want to win. Most will contradict each other. While you need to be open to advice (and actively seek help when you need it), the most difficult part of the job is knowing when to trust yourself and doing what needs to be done for your specific situation. Each candidate, campaign, voter demographics, District, and opponent are different. In the end, I relied heavily on scholarly research and my own intuition.”
Avery Murdie, Campaign Manager & PR Director for Deborah Gonzalez for GA House 117
“Field is how you will win or lose a campaign. Having the candidate do as much direct voter contact as possible will have a huge impact. The most effective method for direct voter contact is knocking on targeted doors, followed by phone calls and meet and greets along with other public appearances.
A universe of targeted voters must be built before any voter contact is done. All voters in the universe need to be contacted before GOTV to identify supporters for GOTV and eliminate others. Knowing who your voters are in all ways is critical. Understanding the demographics of the district will help you figure out the best communication methods for the campaign. For example: younger voters will respond more to Instagram versus email and older voters over 75 will appreciate a phone call or direct mail more.”
“Watching for the activists who embody the spirit of our organization was key for me. I knew that if a journalist heard their stories, they would exemplify who we were and also boost the candidate we were supporting. Anyone who is inspired to volunteer so much time to get someone elected pulls at the emotions of the audience and makes someone take another look at that candidate.”
Jen Cox, Director of PR, PaveItBlue
Your life will forever be changed when you enter into the world of politics. You begin to understand how big of a role politics plays in the quality of life one leads. You also learn how important it is to have your communication strategy in line so that you can properly reach your constituents. You (the candidate) may have the best platform to run on, the biggest heart, and the best mindset to win your election, but if you do not communicate it in a way that reaches your voting audience…it is all for nothing.