HomeBest Practices2012 PR lessons from the Presidential Election and Hurricane Sandy

2012 PR lessons from the Presidential Election and Hurricane Sandy

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards” – Vernon Sanders Law

As PR professionals, we strive to learn from every activity or event we engage in or are forced to face. So we are using this post as an opportunity to consider the impact on Public Relations of two important events that happened in 2012: the presidential election, which we had time to plan for, and hurricane Sandy, which we did not.

What we can learn from the 2012 Presidential Race

Political strategists consider social media a valuable tool for collecting data from and about voters in order to personalize the campaign. On the other hand, the slippery slope is that voters can utilize social media in response to candidate misstatements and awkward situations, which then spread like a wild-wife online.

Campaigning is all about image, and candidates have to constantly control their perception and ideals. Simultaneously, they must react cleverly to events and news that affect their image.

It is a delicate (if not impossible) balancing act.  So, here are some PR lessons we can take away from this year’s election:

  • Have a clear and appealing message – If you don’t have a central message around which to focus your campaign, brand promotion or thought leadership, people are going to interject their own messages for you.
  • Stay on point – When trying to build a public image around a strong and positive message, the spokesperson’s job is to ensure that all interviews in the media and/or conversations made public relate to that message.
  • All publicity isn’t good publicity – Negative press might bring attention, but it’s rarely the kind you want in the PR/image world.  Each 2012 Presidential candidate had a fair share of missteps taking over headlines as ABC News summarized in this article entitled The Biggest Political Blunders of 2012.

What we can learn from Sandy

While individuals, businesses, and communities still struggle to recover from hurricane Sandy, we’ve been reminded of several key PR lessons related to natural disasters and their consequences. Here are some of them:

  • When people are suffering, no one is interested in videos of a company or brand’s annual celebration or a new executive hire.   Put your communications efforts on hold or your message might become one of insensitivity.  Remember, discretion is the better part of valor!
  • But if you offer a product or service that can assist people facing disaster, it is okay to proactively communicate your message – but remember to strike a balance between providing support and taking advantage.
  • People affected by disasters will naturally be under stress. Be particularly sensitive and flexible. In fact, a top rule for PR practitioners is DO NOT PITCH stories to media in the areas impacted by the crisis unless you can provide information that genuinely helps victims.  This may seem obvious, but it is not always followed.  Utilize the Internet to monitor media in your target area, after all, reporters are people too and they may have been directly impacted, as well.  Following Sandy, many local media websites posted messages about closed offices and downed phone lines on their homepages.
  • Remember that during emergency situations, your internal audiences– including employees, business partners, students, and customers – are essential, and must be a primary concern. Again, utilize your business’s resources to help those around you. Efforts might not be recognized outside your own office building, but it will build community and make your company a stronger place in the long-term.  In fact, we helped one of our Long Island, NY-based clients orchestrate an internal fundraising drive to directly aid fellow workers impacted by Sandy.

Social media is here to stay

A great lesson that we need to keep in mind after both of these major events is that social media is here to stay and it has an enormous impact on PR. It’s important for us to understand how social media has shaped campaigns and disasters; learn how to apply best practices in corporate advocacy, crisis and issues management; and become more informed about the creative use of social media as a key tool in our public relations toolbox.

Also, companies must have a crisis management plan. However, even the best crisis management planning does not account for everything that could occur during a disaster – especially in terms of what might break in social media. Crisis plans are of great importance, but the ability to adapt and react beyond the plan is essential during any calamity.