Rob Alderman of The Alderman Group public relations firm gave a summary of the firm’s recent work with political PR to the Cleveland Media Association in its monthly gathering.
“Really, advertising and public relations, in order to survive, have really had to become a turnkey business, where you no longer have advertising departments and public relations departments, but you have to have people that are skilled all the way around,” Alderman said.
Data and polls are very important in political races. Alderman said polls are used during larger races, but not in smaller races such as those for a county commission post. Alderman said a good piece of advice he received before the firm began doing political public relations was to listen to what polls say.
“PR folks are typically optimists,” Alderman said.
He said sometimes the polls are hard to believe because they go against what he thinks the PR should be making happen.
“I think as PR people, sometimes we try to be too clever,” Alderman said.
He said great advertising can fail if potential voters do not get their questions on the issues addressed.
When the polls say that the opponent has more voter support, campaigns are faced with decisions on how to improve a client’s appeal. Some campaigns do this by making the opponent look bad. Alderman said his firm does not want to take this approach.
“There is no single piece of PR, marketing, advertising that we do for any client that is more throughly complete than in political [campaigns]. You’re taking a person, which is the brand, their brand, and you’re trying to identify it — from logo to election day,” Alderman said.
The process starts with talking to the candidate about what he or she stands for. Alderman said in political campaigns it is important to know as much as possible about the client. The group also researches what their client’s opponent says about the client in building the campaign.
One of the challenges for a public relations firm during a political campaign is to make the candidate relatable to a wide variety of people.
“A local county commission race is a lot different than a senatorial race,” Alderman said.
Knowing the voters is important in the development of the advertising campaign.
“If you want to win votes in Bradley County you get on the ground and you knock on doors,” Alderman said.
Strategies also change as Election Day gets closer.
“Early voters have a different mindset than people who vote on Election Day,” Alderman said. “You have to stay so flexible in the middle of a campaign.”
Another aspect of the campaign is to encourage the candidate to keep making calls and contacting potential voters.
“You’re doing a lot of internal PR to keep morale high,” Alderman said. “We function a lot as a cheerleader.”
Deadlines are essential to a well-run campaign. Alderman said public relations need to be spaced to remind the public about campaigns when they are possibly about to forget about them.
“It’s kind of like your best (public relations) dream,” Alderman said. “It’s like your wildest dream ... you have to try [utilizing] every piece of knowledge that you have.”
Keeping projects within the budget is also something that has to be watched closely, Alderman added.