Rock the Vote: Media Tactics to Pump Up Public Affairs Communications

Public affairs and media coverage go hand-in-hand, which inevitably leads to challenges for the communications executives behind the messages; after all, these campaigns are often chock-full of information that is highly regulated, contested, controversial and/or crisis-related. Therefore, whether your goal is to influence voters, reach policy makers, start a grassroots movement or simply manage issues relevant to your industry/organization, successful media outreach surrounding a public affairs initiative requires an airtight plan for execution. Rule No. 1: Don't take social media out of the equation (or, do so at your own risk); as Barack Obama's campaign demonstrated, social media is the wave of the present (see sidebar). Once you get beyond that, consider these best practices for powering up your public affairs programs in a social media-driven world. *Ask yourself tough questions to gauge your preparedness. Public affairs is nothing new to communicators, but conducting public affairs outreach and communications online via social media platforms is. Gil Bashe, executive vice president of Makovsky + Company's health practices, recommends asking yourself the following questions to make sure your team is ready to take the plunge: Do you have the right mix of old and new communications vehicles for grassroots outreach? Where does speed-to-completion fit into your campaign? What is the role of Beltway security in the context of your objectives? How transparent will you/can you be in your online communications? Are you prepared to monitor and track commentary online via tools like Technorati, Digg and Google Blog Search? Are you prepared for ongoing online engagement with your stakeholders? *Dedicate a portion of your Web site to public affairs issues. When news breaks, media flock to the Web to gather information. According to Michele Mitola, vice president of public affairs for Forum Strategies & Communications, communications executives need to get ahead of this trend by building an issue room to serve as the "go-to site or microsite for your issue." Her tips for making this online platform effective: Use multimedia; Keep content up to date; Position the company as an expert; and, Use company resources to enable others to join the conversation about the issue. *Optimize your online content for search. "Don't assume people will find you," Mitola says. "Use search engine optimization, advertising and e-mail alerts to drive people to your site. Include a link to the site in all relevant communications with stakeholders." (See lesson No. 6 in the sidebar for an example of this strategy put into action.) *Enable stakeholders to join the conversation. When Diageo and agency partner Forum Strategies and Communications joined forces to launch DrinkIQ, a Web site that would serve as a global resource to help combat alcohol misuse, the team engaged support by creating a dialogue. "Through this portal, we have been able to communicate with stakeholders, allowing them to post their own media and interact with one another," says Carolyn Panzer, global director of alcohol and responsibility for Diageo. "This circular dialogue has helped advance the conversation surrounding the subject of responsible drinking and has grown DrinkIQ's audience." Mitola seconds this recommendation, urging executives to "enable visitors to easily share information from the site and drive others to it." This interactivity, coupled with viral content, is essential to driving media and consumers alike to any public affairs-related platform. "The centerpiece was DrinkIQ's Resource Center, which features the Responsibility Channel, a community section of the Web site centered around interactive media," Panzer says. "This platform has allowed DrinkIQ to offer a single destination among the plethora of other responsibility Web sites where users can find a wide range of tips, tools and multimedia." PRN CONTACT: Michele Mitola,; Monte Lutz,; Gil Bashe,; Carolyn Panzer, House Party: Lessons Learned From Obama's Social Media Program Whether or not you voted for him, it's hard to refute the fact that Barack Obama led a revolutionary campaign by leveraging social media to engage voters in a grassroots approach. In office, he is continuing his commitment to digital platforms by implementing Web technologies and online communications strategies the likes of which the White House has never seen. According to Monte Lutz, vice president of Digital Public Affairs at Edelman, this has major implications for the future of business. Critical to success, then, is learning from this presidential push to the Web. He identifies the following 10 lessons that any communicator should keep in mind when executing public affairs campaigns for their own organizations. 1. Ladder support through tiers of engagement: "Provide a way for people to get involved based on their level of engagement," Lutz says. He identifies three tiers to organize around: personal (making donations, signing up for e-mail notifications, joining groups on social networks); social (posting pictures/videos, writing blog posts); and advocate (recruiting others to donate, creating online groups, hosting events). 2. Empower super-users: "Identify the connectors early and give them the tools to activate others," Lutz says, pointing to the Obama team's approach of conducting individual, personalized outreach to the most active members. 3. Provide source materials for user-generated content: According to the 2008 Edelman Trust Barometer, people trust "a person like me" most. Obama's team took advantage of this by encouraging user-generated content on its Web site and allowing supporters to discuss and advocate among themselves. 4. Go where people are: "To reach an audience, know where they are and connect with them there," Lutz says, noting that the Obama Web site served as a portal into many sub- platforms and online communities. 5. Use tools people are familiar with: "Participation reinforces messages across platforms and creates as many touch points as possible," Lutz says. 6. Ensure people can find content: When rumors spread that Barack Obama was Muslim, his team took control by purchasing the domain "" and then placing the word "No" in a large font on the landing page. That tactic put the site at the top of search results. 7. Mobilize supporters through mobile: "With text messaging and mobile Web," Lutz says, "reach supporters anywhere they are, any time, at a lower cost." 8. Harness analytics to improve engagement: Obama's team tracked the success of every e-mail, text message and Web site visit. Plus, multiple versions of every ad and e-mail were created to determine what messaging had the greatest impact. 9. Build the online operation to scale: Lutz identifies four steps to achieving a scaled operation: Establish an online presence; enrich content; engage online influencers; and embrace community. 10. Choose the right team: Obama's team consisted of Web veterans from the likes of Facebook, Orbitz and Google. He also created two new positions--head of social media and chief technology adviser--both of which reported directly to the campaign manager.

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