RNC’s Latest PR Campaign Takes

'Human Touch' ApproachWhen the Republican National Committee hired a PR firm several weeks ago to conduct a far-reaching grassroots campaign, it reinforced one of the easily forgotten tenets of PR: public affairs is not about broad swipes - it's about miniature strokes.

The committee hired Creative Response Concepts, Alexandria, Va., to step up its PR for the Republican Congress's proposed tax bill which will be voted on this month. CRC is the same organization RNC turned to to tout its "Contract with America."

The RNC is using CRC to implement grassroots programs throughout the United States. The foundation of its new PR plan will be talk-show radio - but not the route it's typically taken: getting play on syndicated programs like the G. Gordon Liddy or Ollie North shows. Instead, its efforts will be seeking out programs aired in regional markets. In fact, last week RNC Press Secretary Mary Crawford was a featured guest on WIVN, a La Crosse, Wis. radio station targeting the mere 51,000 people who live in this rural pocket.

Leif Noren, chairman of CRC, said that among the public relations CRC oversees for its clients, 70 percent of it is public affairs. Among CRC's clients are the Christian Coalition.

In the next few weeks, CRC will show Americans how the tax plan benefits or affects them - not just show what the plan's benefits are. Noren wouldn't reveal the particular stages of the PR push but said that it will use these primary vehicles:

  • Setting up talk-show interviews in regional radio markets;
  • Sending out daily broadcast faxes;
  • Putting together satellite media tours and video news releases;
  • Providing anecdotal examples of how the plan affects all age groups, from seniors to young adults;
  • Hosting press conferences by phone; and
  • Getting members of Congress to act as proponents "beyond the beltway."

Neither Noren nor Crawford would disclose the CRC budget for the several-months-long campaign.

Increasingly, PR professionals are learning that public affairs, tagged as one of the fastest growing practice areas in PR, hinges on grassroots public affairs - not just lobbying regulatory commissions and networking with policy makers and deep-pocketed organizations like the National Rifle Association.

Case in point: A study released by the Public Affairs Council, Washington, D.C., in April ranked grassroots public affairs as sixth out of 21 in terms of current corporate activities, with the genre even outranking such PR practices as issues management, employee communications, international public affairs and stockholder relations. And in that same study, grassroots was ranked fourth out of 12, only surpassed in importance by trade and business association involvements and visits by public officials, as prioritized political involvement activities.

The Grassroots of Public Affairs

If you're jousting for PR attention in the business arena, the RNC's move re-emphasizes how important it is for PR to be used as a way to connect with your constituents. Too often in PR, practitioners and execs forget that messages tend to become either achingly dogmatic or painfully dull. Instead, what they often need is to be eked out a little more and then distributed to various audiences and in a wide spectrum of ways. Just consider how Avon used grassroots PR to publicize its breast cancer awareness crusade (see PRN, April 7, 1997) or how Saturn invited car buyers from all walks of life to a picnic to gain industry prominence.

Based on its trouncing by the Clinton administration's well-oiled PR engine in the last election, the RNC decided that its public affairs tactics in the future would hinge on bypassing the "filter" of the press by getting its four spokespeople in the public eye (mostly by being interviewed on radio shows) and partnering with conservative taxpayers and advocacy groups that can spread its messages on the local level.

"Grassroots PR and public affairs have become what's part of the whole marketing mix," added Noren. "It's no longer about paid advertisements but rather earned media. The key to this is what's in it for the viewer or the audience, and we're going to attach that human element to it. [Historically], Clinton has had the bully pulpit and it's been easier for him to get his messages out."

As part of getting their messages out, the RNC and CRC are devising reports for local communities. For example, in a July 2 release, there was more than a smattering of news with some kind of local edge: In its "Dispatch from Pennsylvania," U.S. Rep., John Peterson (R-Pa.) is quoted as calling the tax cuts history making; in its "Dispatch from Nebraska," RNC says the bill will give Nebraska families up to $451.2 million over five years in tax credits for the state's 263,000 children; and its "Dispatch from New Hampshire" includes a quantifier from U.S. Rep. John E. Sununu that 70 percent of the tax relief will go to people with incomes of less than $75,000. (CRC, 703/683-5004; RNC, 202/863-8550)