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The Top 5 PR Lessons Learned From the National Conventions
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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For the past two weeks, every politico, pollster, and national network has been in a tizzy over the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Admittedly, few things at these steroid-enriched pep rallies are impartial and unbiased. That said, there are five things that straddled the fence, reached across the aisle, and could have taught any PR professional five non-partisan lessons. So, let's get into that here.

1. Understand the Power of Perception. President Obama has always championed the power of youth as if it were a fountain for the campaign. This year, his musical selections proved that premise with acts like Beyonce, U2, The Black Eyed Peas, Daft Punk, and Katy Perry. It was a jukebox of the destitute college student. Of course, he also channeled his own youth with The Temptations, The Jackson 5, and Sly & The Family Stone, but the perception was youth, with a dash of diversity. As for the perception of the Republican National Convention, well, suffice to say the folk they targeted were a little, um, homogenized. At RNC 2012, music featured American Idol notable-ish Taylor Hicks, country luminaries Alabama and The Oak Ridge Boys, southern legends Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Kid Rock. Perception lesson? One party looked like a melting pot while the other looked like a stew — a huge, milky white stew. 

2. You Are the Company You Keep. This popular aphorism was taken from the Bible in 1 Corinthians 15:33, "Bad company corrupts good morals." In PR, we know to surround our clients with the right company, the proper representation, and the best foot forward in the public eye. Not that Clint Eastwood is bad by any stretch of the imagination. He is an American treasure, but the empty chair thing just placed Romney in the crosshairs. Actually, he was removed from conversation for two days on Dirty Harry's invisible rant. That said, among the political nods, President Obama called upon the genius musings of Eva Longoria. Let's see; The Outlaw Josey Wales versus Tony Parker's scorned ex. 

3. Your Company Should Know Your Key Messages. Every person that took the lectern and podium in Charlotte — from San Antonio's Julian Castro, Sen. John Kerry, and the master elocutionist Bill Clinton — universally touted the need for the American people to select the Democratic ticket in 2012. They all echoed each other's sentiments with power and conviction. They each created quite the kerfuffle with their passion. However, in Tampa, the Republicans had the same effect for its crowd. People swooned, stood in ovation, and screamed in ecstasy. And then came New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. His speech was laden with facts, riddled with passion, and full of middle fingers to the current administration. That said, it took the Jersey Boy 16 whole minutes to mention Mitt Romney's name...once. Upsetting to say the least for anyone who writes speeches. 

4. Influence and Control are Completely Different. In short, one you can merit with hard work and strategy. With the other, you have more chance having an intelligent conversation with a Kardashian. Campaigns are tools to "influence" the pundits. Political ads are tools to "influence" wayfaring voters. However, there is no way you can control attitudes and thoughts with any tool. Take Obama's recent ad about Mitt Romney's decision, which caused someone to die of cancer. So, this didn't happen, and Obama eventually rued the day his name was attached to that smut. And then there is the DNC follow up with Romney and Ryan exclaiming "Are you better off?" Cute in premise, but check out social media for the resounding answer: "YES!" Whoops. 

5. Speak Directly to Your Audience. In PR, we should know our audiences' communication needs. We write releases, statements, and speeches to resonate. And if not, they make a resounding thud. Speaking of thud, measure the two campaigns. When Romney, Ryan, Christie, and the gaggle of influencers at RNC 2012 spoke, it was in high rhetoric, political scenario, and finger pointing to items far above the average voter's head. And then there's the DNC. Remember, they want to talk to the youth, so they did by using zingers, ballyhooed statements, and practically breaking out a game of the "Dozens." If you need an example, go no further than this gem:

You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally. 

Mind you, during the past four years, President Obama has done his fair share to talk over people, offend an audience, or completely ignore what's being said. However, since we are talking about PR lessons from the political conventions, let's make this a personal rant about your own acrimony. 

As you can see, there are plenty of PR lessons to be learned by watching this, the most crucial of all elections. Whatever party you fancy and whatever issues you cherish, remember, every spokesperson...every client has his or her faults. Every company you represent has its issues. And every product you work to position will have its fair share of cheerleaders and ne'er-do-wells. However, as you should with any vote, you should research, study, and learn to use your voice. 

After all, that's what PR is all about...wait, what did you think we were discussing?

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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