The wrong choice of words, ethical pitfalls, essential information leaks – all come down to political PR.
Politicians all around the world are constantly in the spotlight. Each week, agencies and PR managers produce press releases on behalf of their clients to convey all necessary information about their latest projects, campaigns, and initiatives.
Public relations is an essential part of political life.
It’s the role of PR managers to keep a finger on the pulse and react quickly as soon as something gets out of control. They are the ones who generate positive attention and take care of politicians’ images.
What is public relations?
The primary function of public relations (PR) is to enhance the reputation of a brand and build a positive image of that brand among the public, potential customers, partners, investors, employees, and other stakeholders. This gives the brand an appearance of honesty, transparency, and responsibility.
Why is PR important in politics?
In politics, public relations is a strategic communication process used by politicians to build a mutually beneficial relationship with the public.
People tend to have a simplistic view of public relations in politics, believing that it only involves news management and media relations. Nevertheless, this approach omits other critical areas such as crisis communication, volunteer relations, issues management, and fundraising.
But, for clarity’s sake, why is PR such an important component of the work of politicians?
PR helps gain vital exposure and creates a positive image
Politicians work on their image. How the public perceives them can affect the outcome of future elections. That’s why they make sure to always show off their best side and remain in the public eye.
Organizing conferences, political debates, and other relevant events is the responsibility of a PR team hired by political organizations. They look for opportunities and events that a politician can attend to increase their awareness.
Getting the necessary (positive) exposure can be challenging. If you’re a political candidate, you need, for example, someone to write speeches for your campaigns. It will also be crucial to have a good rapport with the media and a skilled spokesperson in order to get your message out so that all listeners correctly understand it.
The purpose of PR in politics goes beyond representing a politician individually, and sometimes for the sake of votes and a party, politicians have to tarnish their positive image in other groups. It’s not easy being a PR manager – one needs to remain strong, steady, and cautious. If they don’t, the party or individual may gain undesirable publicity.
PR helps ease a political crisis
Since politicians are constantly in the spotlight, they are more prone to slip-ups and unexpected crises. In addition to this elevated risk, they are in a constant battle with the opposing party, who are always working to dig up some dirt. Politicians have to constantly keep a finger on the pulse and put out every fire before they do any damage.
If you’re a Netflix addict, there’s a possibility that you were watching a series a few years ago, called “Designated Survivor”. You may remember the president’s speechwriter – Seth Wright. He demonstrates often perfect examples of how to handle crises.
Below we’ve linked a scene showing what PR managers deal with daily. As a result, they are constantly under pressure, trying to protect their clients from the bullets of the media and other parties. This clip also shows how even an innocent choice of words can act as fuel to the fire.
Areas of Political Public Relations
But that isn’t all. The role of political PR extends to many more fields as well. What are they? In one publication, Jesper Strömbäck and Spiro Kiousis highlighted:
1) News management
Most people are aware of PR’s influence in news management and media relations. They know that effective political public relations involve engaging journalists and news sources to cover topics of critical importance, such as holding special news conferences or creating press releases. But, generally, most people probably believe that PR management ends there. Nothing could be further from the truth.
2) Issue management
Issue management is another prominent area of political PR. This involves how politicians and their parties define, prioritize, develop, and convey critical issues. PR managers watch over all these key areas by using various tools, such as position papers, platform statements, speeches, debates, and so on.
3) Event management
Public relations managers devote a lot of time and effort to political events which support politicians’ exposure. They are responsible for planning, managing, and executing events such as party conventions, fundraising dinners, or town hall meetings.
4) Evaluation management
Are the results of PR activity measurable? Several firms, individuals, and groups have developed different models, spreadsheets, and estimates to do exactly that. However, PR efforts have no specific analytic metrics that can be used to measure their success, so still, they are just estimates. Nevertheless, an evaluation management process is necessary. This work illustrates the importance of PR activities to achieve politicians’ goals and helps pinpoint areas for improvement.
Digital political PR
How do politicians handle their social media accounts? Are they in charge themselves, or are PR companies responsible for them?
Many politicians consult their social media activities with a PR manager, but they mostly manage them independently. Nevertheless, there are known cases where leaving politicians’ accounts to an external company have led to much better results compared to the politicians running them themselves.
An example of this would be the former president of the USA, Donald Trump, who has been banned on most social media platforms due to breaking their rules. It’s likely that all the terrifying events that took place in the USA at the beginning of the year could have been avoided if he had discussed the content of his posts with someone first, rather than posting in the spur of the moment.
The example shows how much influence social media now has on what’s going on in the world. Millions of people follow politicians. As an example, let’s look at Barack Obama, who is followed by more than 130 million people on Twitter. This makes him the most followed politician’s account on this specific social media platform and one of the most influential.
With the evolution of digital communication channels, political PR provides more efficient and tailored opportunities for political systems and players to engage the public. They have to build a community, respond to questions, and create a direct relationship.
However, they have to take full responsibility for what they put out there. Therefore, it is equally important to plan a social media strategy as carefully as any other activity.
Political PR: 7 golden rules
From a PR perspective, being a politician means complying with several rules to maintain a positive professional image. These are our top seven:
1) Preparing for the worst
The first point deals with preparing a strategy that outlines what will be done in a crisis or any other unexpected event. The crisis communications plan has to be flexible – and easy to modify. Time is of the essence in an ever-changing situation.
No matter what, a politician should always have a plan B. All sorts of scenarios increase the likelihood that an image will not be negatively affected.
2) Creating an emergency response team
Political leaders should have a team of people who are always on hand in case of PR incidents. The team should consist of experienced, trusted individuals who can work under time pressure and know exactly what to do. The team should speak with one voice and adapt quickly to new and challenging situations.
3) Apologizing first, then taking action
One of the most important golden rules of politics – do not try to cover up a PR crisis. It will only worsen the situation. Instead, a good response is to take responsibility and own up to a mistake appropriately.
When a situation is taking place on social media, a politician should always respond quickly and focus on the right conversations – too much silence is not an option in this case.
4) Monitoring is of the essence
The tool automatically assigns each mention a sentiment: positive, neutral, or negative. Furthermore, it constantly monitors the Internet in real-time, and in the event of increased negativity or activity on social media, it informs the team.
5) Listening is key
And we don’t just mean the voters here. Unfortunately, it can be clearly observed that most politicians have problems with listening to people. Listening is essential because this skill is well-received by others. Even more importantly – they should listen to their team first.
Politicians shouldn’t take any action before consulting with their team and finding the best solution and talking through the most reasoned approach.
6) Avoiding impulsive reactions
Politicians’ statements are sometimes overloaded with emotion and unnecessary words. The rule here is to put external communications on hold until you have had a chance to assess the situation correctly. If not, a politician’s words can easily be used against them – causing unnecessary problems.
7) Being transparent
In the digital era, where any misstep can go viral, it’s essential to take transparent actions. All lies can come out very quickly, so a reputation can be, sometimes irreparably, damaged.
To sum up on political PR
Political PR is far from being a piece of cake.
Now, PR professionals have to perform many more tasks than just direct public relations activities. They are working towards making their clients comfortable in virtual reality either to present them in the best possible light.
No wonder that these professionals are looking for solutions that can streamline their work and help them detect any unfavorable opinions. Mediatoolkit wasn’t mentioned in this article by chance.
Whatever your role is – whether you are a politician, a PR manager, a business owner, or a marketer – we strongly encourage you to invest in such a tool sooner rather than later to prevent crises and maintain your positive online image.