In the latest edition of Philly Ad News, AKCG President Chris Lukach, APR discusses how election season is a sensitive time for decision making and crisis communication.
There’s one bit of counsel I find myself giving to clients quite often, usually as a postscript, every four years:
“And don’t forget — it’s an election year.”
2020 will be no exception. I’ll catch myself saying this innumerable times in the coming months.
Election seasons have always been sensitive times for crisis communicators. Bad news for a candidate’s constituencies affects their electability or re-electability. Moreover, elected officials are more likely to publicly embrace pet causes during election seasons, and our clients may — rightly or wrongly — become targets.
This year may be even more treacherous than usual. Any cursory, nonscientific comparison between this coming election season and that of 2016 will reveal two prominent trends: First, candidates are posting to social media with even more furious intensity. And second, politicians seem more comfortable sharing information sources of questionable authority and, dare I say, integrity. Crisis communications is hard enough when we deal only with the verifiable. Rumors and misinformation are even more challenging to combat.
“Neither the prominence of a candidate’s office nor the number of his or her followers equates to influence – at least not as far as our audiences are concerned.”
The crisis communications landscape during an election year is unsettling, but it can be made more manageable. Consider these tips and cautions if you are gearing up for a notable announcement before we hit the polls.
Don’t let local and regional elected officials be surprised. When planning significant announcements — sales, divestitures, acquisitions, closures, layoffs and the like — we always counsel an advance notice to elected officials (and, in some cases, candidates) is wise. We counsel this even if it doesn’t feel like an announcement that necessarily would interest the officials, and even if the most advance notice we can give amounts to only a few hours.
During election seasons, this isn’t just a prudent step … it’s an essential step.
We’re all prone to treating news more cynically when we hear about it indirectly. A quick phone call to municipal or city leadership, state legislature and the aides of your organization’s congressperson and senators limits the chance they’ll learn of the announcement through some other means.
Expect analysis that supports campaign talking points, rather than critical analysis. Candidates, too, are human. And just like most humans, candidates and their teams don’t always read the articles before they retweet them.
When one of our region’s school districts was criticized for its handling of student-lunch debt, no fewer than three democratic presidential candidates weighed in on Twitter. Some used the opportunity to discuss food insecurity for children, a topic that, while important, had nothing to do with the district or its actions. It would seem they, like so many of us, are willing to go off the headline alone. Studies have suggested that as many as 60 percent of social media users will retweet or otherwise share content without having read the article. Why would politicians be any different?
Don’t overestimate the impact of a candidate’s attention. Interest from elected officials can feel explosive, but much of it is just noise, or, as the Bard said, “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Neither the prominence of a candidate’s office nor the number of his or her followers equates to influence — at least not as far as our audiences are concerned. Scrutiny from prominent candidates attracts attention but doesn’t necessarily motivate our audiences to think or act differently. In fact, too much attention may be a bonus. Recently, one of my clients experienced that first-hand: when a presidential candidate called them out, citing a culture struggling with inclusion, the critique served as something of a rallying cry, bringing the school community together in unity. It was an unexpected binding agent, but it was welcome.
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