It’s Election Day. Here’s What Communicators Can Learn About Media Relations From Politicians.


It wasn’t that long ago that a politician could make a boneheaded remark after winning (or losing) an election and not have to suffer the indignities of the media or the public. No more. Not in a social media age.

As Election Day 2014 kicks into high gear, PR pros should pay close attention to how the candidates present themselves as the results are tallied.

Who can forget some of the classic flubs from politicians running for office, such as Richard M. Nixon’s famous, “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore…” quote after he lost the California gubernatorial race in 1962. Then there was the concession speech by Dick Tuck, who, after losing a California state Senate race, exclaimed: “The people have spoken, the bastards!"

Politicos may hold some lessons that PR execs can relay to senior managers who need to communicate frequently with their constituents, er, customers and prospects.

Whether it’s the white-hot glare of the national media or shareholders unhappy with the direction of the company, senior managers have to know how to carry themselves when they are in the spotlight.

Of course, many senior managers consider themselves fairly media savvy—until they utter a comment that gets them into hot water with stakeholders.

Like political candidates who will be celebrating victory or conceding defeat throughout the day, there are a few tips for PR pros to consider when preparing the top brass for a key speech or presentation.

> Keep it strategic. Hit on the important points, but don’t get stuck in the weeds regarding practice or policy. Talk to the benefits of, say, a new program, as well as any sacrifices the company may have to take in order to achieve its long-term goals.

> Leave personalities out of it. Don’t have the executive get bogged down in personalities or play the blame game after, say, losing a big account or client. If heads must roll, those actions need to be taken in private. When giving a speech, keep the focus on how the company intends to move forward and remedy what turned out to be a difficult situation. On the other hand, take care to acknowledge any employees or partners responsible for landing a new account and/or juicing the bottom line.

> Add some levity. It’s been a tough campaign that’s sucked up a lot of budget and the returns are not yet known. People who have worked on the campaign are tuckered. Take that as an opportunity to bring some humor to the proceedings; if it’s self-deprecating humor, even better. But leave the audience with the understanding that, while the outcome may not have been to everyone’s liking, the company is prepared to do better the next time.

And, oh yes, remember that the mic is always hot and the camera is always on.

To learn more about media relations trends, attend PR News' Media Relations Next Practices Conference, which takes place December 11  at the National Press Club.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1