An 8-Step Comms Strategy for Overcoming Ageism in the 2024 Presidential Election 

In today’s era of political division, our nation has witnessed a significant shift in the news delivery landscape. Gone are the days of trusted anchors like Cronkite and Huntley-Brinkley, replaced by various information sources ranging from reputable journalism to dubious platforms. Amid this vast amount of information, there’s a concerning trend: the spread of disinformation and falsehoods, which can distort reality and influence public perception.

One glaring perception that has taken root is the notion that President Joe Biden’s age has diminished his cognitive abilities and capacity to carry out his duties effectively. This perception gained additional traction when special counsel Robert Hur implicitly attributed Biden’s immunity from criminal prosecution, in part, to his advanced age.

Despite being marginally older than candidate and former President Donald Trump, both leaders have exhibited confusion and memory lapses. Presidents Biden’s and Trump’s occasional gaffes, once admired by some for authenticity, are now compounded by signs of aging. While observations about Presidents Biden and Trump lack medical authority, they contribute to the prevailing narrative that age may compromise a President’s leadership. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Combating Ageism Stereotypes in Communications

Age alone cannot provide insight into an individual’s experiences, values, health status or cognitive abilities, much like other broad identity categories, according to Dr. Tracey Gendron, a gerontologist and author of the book “Ageism Unmasked.” And there is a need to battle ageism in communications, which can be accomplished through fostering a multigenerational workforce and reshaping perceptions of aging through positive imagery and language.

To address the age challenge for political candidates specifically, PR professionals can enact the following eight-step strategic path to elevate their public images, highlight their leadership and demonstrate that their age does not impact their ability to lead.

  1. Embrace Authenticity: While candidates may occasionally stumble, flooding the media with their presence ensures that not all remarks will be perceived as gaffes. Like a baseball player’s batting average, providing ample opportunities allows for both strikeouts and home runs and the elected officials’ track record speaks for itself.
  2. Learn from Past Mistakes: Avoid the pitfalls of past campaigns, such as the Clinton campaign’s handling of leaked emails in 2016. Rather than allowing drip-fed revelations to dominate the narrative, swiftly address and authenticate any contentious material.
  3. Harness the Power of Imagery: Plan daily photo opportunities showcasing elected officials as engaged and energetic leaders. Drawing inspiration from the Reagan era, ensure these events are staged thoughtfully with attention to color, lighting, and backdrop, portraying the President in command during various settings, from cabinet meetings to community engagements.
  4. Embrace Humor and Wit: Follow Reagan’s example of using humor to address age-related perceptions. Older candidates should make light-hearted jokes about their age, echoing memorable quips from past leaders. Injecting humor into public appearances humanizes candidates and deflects attention from perceived shortcomings.
  5. Embrace Transparency: Despite occasional missteps, prioritize holding regular press conferences to demonstrate transparency and accessibility. Even if criticized, maintaining a presence in the media spotlight showcases their willingness to engage with diverse viewpoints and address tough questions head-on, fostering trust and accountability.
  6. Seize Interview Opportunities: Utilize the elected official’s empathetic nature to connect with the public on a personal level. Encourage them to participate in various interviews, from emotional moments like his appearance on The View after Senator John McCain’s cancer diagnosis to tough discussions on programs like “60 Minutes.” These platforms allow older candidates to showcase their ability to comfort and lead compassionately.
  7. Demonstrate Leadership in Action: Counteract perceptions of older candidates’ demeanor in private meetings by opening more interactions to the public eye. Providing glimpses into engagement and command of the issues reinforces confidence in their leadership abilities.
  8. Excel in Key Speeches: Elevate the candidate’s performance for crucial addresses by emphasizing preparation and delivery. Utilize speech coaches to refine a strong voice and instill confidence. By mastering these pivotal moments, a candidate can reaffirm their leadership and vision for the nation.

Inevitably, the leading candidates will continue to make occasional mistakes. However, by implementing a reputation repair strategy, they will have ample opportunities to demonstrate their depth of knowledge, tout their achievements and make a compelling case to the American public. Embracing increased visibility and engagement carries no downside; it is essential for shaping the narrative and instilling confidence.

Failure to adopt a more proactive approach suggests a reluctance to confront challenges head-on, signaling a lack of conviction or confidence. It’s time for the leading candidates for Commander and Chief and their teams to seize control of the narrative and lead with clarity and determination.

Eric Rose is a partner at the public affairs firm EKA and manages the crisis and reputation management practice.