Friday, July 24, 2009

Public Relations in the Internet Age

Part 6 of our 10-part series: “21st Century Campaigning”

In 2005 a dramatic development took place in the history of news service. Garrett Graff, a 23-year-old blogger for Media Bistro’s “Fishbowl DC” was granted a daily pass to be part of the White House Press Corps. One White House spokesman admitted that he had never heard of a blogger being given such a prominent place in the media world before.

As we all know, the past five to ten years has been tough on the newspaper industry. Even before Graff entered the White House for press conferences, newspaper readership was declining with the growing popularity of the internet.

In December last year, the Pew Research Center found that - for the first time - more Americans were getting their news from the internet than newspapers. Young people were driving this transition, with 59% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 reading news online - an incredible 25% jump since September 2007.

What does this mean for political campaigns?

Little in the blogosphere is such a popular topic as politics (heck, you’re reading a political blog right now). And as blogs continue to grow in relevance, many PR firms - as well as campaigns - are beginning to rethink how they reach out to information providers.

From an article on MediaShift, which tracks the online news revolution:

[Adam] Ritchie [who works in brand promotion] explained that in the old PR world, the agency would simply place the news in traditional outlets and be done with it. But with the new model, once you've placed the story, you've opened a new phase of work -- and that's when the social media part begins. You then take that news story from a trusted outlet and begin trying to spread it into the blogosphere and social news sites, drawing more eyeballs to it than the publication's typical audience.

But how do they approach these bloggers and social media users? Almost everyone I spoke to for this piece immediately agreed that most bloggers think very differently than traditional journalists; they tend to shy away from the old methods that PR people have in the past used to engage reporters. Ritchie said that he hasn't sent out a press release in years, going so far as to say, "I don't believe in press releases."

"A lot of blogs will pick up a press release, and it's true that press releases have found new life among indie bloggers that are hungry for content," he said. "But quality writers for quality blogs aren't going to regurgitate a press release, and you're not winning in the long run by sending the press release to small and independent bloggers because you're not building personal relationships by carpet bombing them. We want to be on a personal basis with them, and sending them a press release isn't going to accomplish much for the next time you want to approach them."

Ritchie said that he sends a personal note with a "buffet of options" for the blogger -- whether it's a YouTube clip, a mainstream press article, or even an original scoop -- so that he or she can choose how to engage the story.

Christine Perkett, president and founder of PerkettPR, said that bloggers often differ from journalists in that they aren't writing about these subjects as a full-time job, meaning they will approach the story differently than would a reporter…

…One thing that PR professionals have found within social media is a tendency for badly run campaigns to backfire. If a journalist receives a bad pitch or poorly targeted press release, he'll often just ignore it. But it's not uncommon for a blogger to publish the press release or email on his blog, ridiculing the person or agency that sent it to him.

While campaigns should adopt similar strategies and precautions, it is important to remember that the blogosphere is still in its early years, and changes are still to come in the realm of citizen journalism. As another article from MediaShift points out “[There has been a] trend in recent years of newspapers trying to team up with local bloggers.”

Los Angeles Times blog editor Tony Pierce says:

"For the most part, this whole citizen journalism concept is fine for about three or four people per town, but that's about it," he said. "And most of those people are not journalists for a reason. Either they're crappy writers or they're crazy, which makes for sometimes interesting blog posts, but is that something that a major newspaper would link to?

… I love blogs more than any other person -- but I'll be the first to tell you that most of them are crappy. Which isn't to say that individual posts can't be great, and I think that's where newspapers should focus."

Such a system of online newspaper sources linking to local-oriented blog posts is tricky - it’s uncharted waters for campaigns to navigate effectively. But some clues as to how to develop a clever strategy can be seen in the way campaigning is done now.

According to political scientist Brian Schaffner, “One reason that citizens turn to the local news more often [than national news] is that they tend to be interested in news that directly affects their lives.” Referring to a 2002 Pew study that found local television news to still be the most popular form of media consumption (and a 2008 Pew study finds it continues to be) Schaffner argues that campaigns are smart to target local communities in speeches and message because it gets more airtime on local news than national news and is more relevant to voters.

“Campaign events often have significance to local communities that would be lost on national news outlets. For example, during the second debate of the 2000 presidential campaign, George Bush and Al Gore briefly discussed the tragic school shootings that occurred in 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado. This discussion was almost completely ignored by the national news programs, but each television station…in Denver discussed that portion of the debate on their news programs…the news was much more important for citizens in Denver who were still dealing with the repercussions of the tragedy.”

As blogs become more and more focused on local issues with the help of the professional news industry, campaigns can use the same tactics of message on local issues and win coverage.

Beyond this, campaigns are already reaching out to bloggers in personalized ways to get positive coverage and a leg up in the online news age - another one of the lasting legacies of Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign. And more innovations for 21st Century PR are sure to come as campaigns evolve and Americans leave the ink print behind.

Come back Tuesday for Part 7: 21st Century Polling!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Case Study: Twitter's Impact on WAYLA

In 2009, What Are You Looking At? experienced a dramatic increase in readership between the months of May and June. Overall, traffic on WAYLA doubled in June relative to the traffic in May.

How did this increase happen?

There are several variables that went into the growth of visits to WAYLA - including more content to find with a Google search and a greater presence in social bookmarking - but one of the most noticeable reasons for this improvement was Twitter.

In fact, we found that there was at least a 20% increase in traffic that was directly attributable to Twitter. As our base of followers grew steadily at, our referrals from Twitter to the blog grew exponentially.

Why Twitter Can Help a Blog

Today WAYLA has about 350 followers on Twitter - a number that is increasing on a daily basis. By tweeting approximately three times a day we have kept the blog relevant to those followers. They can now be consistently reminded to check out the newest blog post.

By including a few words on the content of our new posts, “What We’re Looking At” or headlines we have provided for the day, we can not only catch the eye of our followers, but spark enough of an interest to bring them back to the blog and read it. Not only is it helpful for us because it increases our traffic, but it gives our readers the opportunity to know what’s new at WAYLA and remind them to visit again.

According to Shannon Vallor - a professor at Santa Clara University who studies social networking - “the first place people go are these social-networking tools [such as Twitter] rather than the conventional media…more people are using the major media outlets as places to go after they've heard the basic story to get more information.”

Twitter can also be accessed easily with modern cell phones. This has a serious advantage for bloggers who analyze the news. One study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project finds that Twitter users are more than twice as likely to read the news on their mobiles as other internet users. Additionally, checking the news via phones is becoming increasingly common with smart phones as professionals become more and more “on-the-go.”

Using Twitter for increasing hits and the number of visitors a blog receives has other very practical reasoning behind it. Research shows that over 90% of the users of social networking websites (including Myspace, Facebook, and now Twitter) also read blogs.

WAYLA’s New Media Strategy

WAYLA has maintained a page at Facebook since February. While this provided some initial growth in traffic, continuing to increase hits was somewhat difficult. The reason is simple enough: WAYLA’s niche reader is not in his or her twenties - the prime age of a Facebook user.

According to the Pew study mentioned before, the median age for a Facebook user is 26 - not long out of college and not as likely to be involved professionally in political campaign strategy. The median age for Twitter users, however, is 31 - an age at which a person is much more likely to be interested in the sort of content we typically publish.

So in late May and throughout June, WALYA did a big Twitter push. We sent out an email blast, Facebook update, and even did a blog post letting our readers know that we were on Twitter. Our contacts that were not even very familiar with the blog started visiting on a regular basis once they were following us.

It wasn’t long before less familiar contacts - and even many people we didn’t know - were following us as well, deepening our pool of potential readers.

Can Twitter Help Your Business or Campaign?

Twitter is free and simple to use, so there’s no point in neglecting it. But in order for it to be helpful it must be used wisely. Much of it has to do with what we like to call “Twitter talent.”

A recent study by BlissPR - a public relations firm in New York - found that a majority of consulting firms are failing to use social networking. Those which do have Twitter accounts or Facebook pages either use new media too limitedly or fail to use it effectively - for example, they might post tweets that don’t pass what communications expert Ann Wylie calls the “who cares” test. Simply put: you need to provide your followers with useful information when you tweet.

Blogs can use it to drive traffic, campaigns can use it to update supporters about fundraisers or volunteer opportunities, and (as the Boston Globe found recently) restaurants can use it for posting their daily specials. All of these uses are effective because they provide followers with information they can use.

And because it simultaneously advances your purposes, tweeting effectively is to both their benefit and yours.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Will the State Senate Change Hands in the Centennial State?

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from Colorado.

Back in May, we found that Colorado Democrats - who control both houses in the State Legislature - were undergoing a bit of a rough patch in public opinion. Not much has changed in that time (in fact, it’s only gotten worse for many Democratic leaders there) so we decided to take a look at what exactly it could mean for Colorado’s government after 2010.

Rather than look at statewide offices, we started with the upper house in the Colorado General Assembly, where Democrats control 21 of the 35 seats. In order to take back the State Senate, the GOP would only need to grab 4 districts.

Can they do it?

Seventeen seats in the State Senate will be contested in 2010 - eight of them currently held by Democrats. Of those eight, five will be vacated due to term limits. Obviously, open seats have the most competitive races - so let’s start there.

Of the open seats, three of them (Districts 3, 32, and 34) are pretty safe for Democrats to hang on to. Districts 32 and 34 are both in solid-blue areas of Denver, and District 3 encompasses the town of Pueblo, where Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one.

The other two open seats, however, will be competitive.

In District 6 (Durango, Montrose) term-limited incumbent Jim Isgar (D-Durango) recently announced resignation upon an appointment to the Obama Administration. Isgar’s seat will be filled by a Democrat until the 2010 election. While Isgar had managed some impressive victories in 2002 and 2006, John McCain won the district with about 51% of the vote last year, and Republicans outnumber Democrats about 40% - 26%. Local Democrats hope that Isgar’s replacement will have enough time to build a name for himself before Election time.

In District 20 (Wheat Ridge, Golden) Democrats and Republicans are about even in registration numbers, and State Sen. Maryanne Moe Keller (D-Wheat Ridge) won this suburban-Denver district by less than half of a percent in 2002. While she did better in 2006 (with about 57%) it’s important to remember she was assisted by the incumbency effect and the fact that 2006 was just a good year for Democrats.

But that’s only 2 seats for the GOP - half of what they need to regain control. They will need to look at knocking-off some incumbents as well.

One place to start is with State Sen. John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) in District 11. It’s a relatively competitive seat, and the disapproval of state Democratic leaders could trickle down into this race.

The other vulnerable seat is the large 5th District, where incumbent State Sen. Gail Schwartz won with just under 51% in 2006 - less than a thousand votes. But Republican and Democratic numbers there are fairly even and President Obama won the district with 53.6% of the vote. This is likely to be a very competitive re-election campaign - especially with the poor ratings Coloradans have been giving Democrats lately.

The only other imaginable target would be State Sen. Lois Trochtop (D-Thornton) in the northern Denver suburbs - but after she earned 60% of the vote in 2006, it would be quite the Cinderella story.

Most other seats - including virtually all GOP-controlled districts - are fairly safe for 2010. The State Senate races to watch will be the five races listed above. Republicans - who also aren’t very popular in Colorado these days - will have to really perform well this election cycle in order to win 4 out of those 5 competitive races (one of which is hardly competitive at all).

While it’s too close to call at the moment, it certainly would not be impossible for the GOP to retake the Colorado State Senate - but it will still be difficult.

For more information on Democratic and Republican performance in Colorado, see and

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What’s Still to Come in the Evolution of Political TV Ads?

Part 5 of our 10-part series: “21st Century Campaigning”

The presidential race in 2008 saw some of the most effective campaign ads ever seen on television. They incorporated most of the important developments in political advertising of the past 50 years - and even went a step or two further.

The Evolution of Political TV Ads

1952 - The Birth of Campaign TV Spots

In Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first ad - “Ike for President” - the WWII General’s campaign began the new tactic of television spots for a political campaign.

1964 - Hitting the Heart

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, television ads were mostly fairly boring and certainly not too controversial. Then President Lyndon Johnson’s campaign produced “Daisy” - the Pandora’s Box of (truly) negative ads. It was so controversial that it only played once, but the impact it had on campaign ads to follow has never gone away.

1968 - The Daisy Effect Lives On

Former Vice President Nixon spots this similar - thought certainly not as vivid - negative ad, attacking the Democrats for their handling of the Vietnam War.

1976 - Targeting by Media Market

In his first Presidential campaign, Jimmy Carter produced a region-specific ad to drive votes in the American South. This attention to particular audiences in particular media markets served as a precursor to the later micro-targeting techniques of Karl Rove and others.

1980 - Making Ads “Issue-Based”

Believe it or not, political ads are more substantive than they’ve ever been before. In fact, only about two-thirds of campaign ads in the 1950s were issue-based rather than “image-based” - compared to about 85% issue-based and 15% image-based by 2004.

Here, in Ronald Reagan’s 1980 “Podium” ad, we see the development of flashy, short and simple campaign ads that still stay issue-based.

1984 - Making Ads Memorable

The most effective campaign TV spots are those that voters can’t help but remember. In this re-election ad, “Prouder, Stronger, Better” (better known as the “Morning in America” ad) Reagan’s campaign produced a masterpiece.

It has all the great images - patriotic symbols, young children, senior citizens, workers, dogs, even a wedding - all of which (some for still uncertain reasons) are brilliant and highly effective for campaign ads. All the while it maintains an issue-based message of economic improvement.

1988 - Divide and Conquer

In George H.W. Bush’s first campaign, Lee Atwater became the first political consultant to be a household name. Although the Bush campaign itself didn’t run it, Atwater was the man behind the infamous “Willy Horton” ad, as well as the equally well-known “Revolving Door” spot.

The tactics were innovative for two reasons. First, they were more negative than ever before. While that should have hurt the Bush campaign (which it did to an extent) it made the campaign’s message look more factual than the rosy pictures presented by Reagan and Carter in the ads above. Second, they used the divisive issue of crime in a way that they could bring in more mainstream Americans than they risked to lose. Never before had the “50% + 1” strategy been so evident.

1992 - Campaigns Decide to “Prove It”

Bill Clinton’s campaign might not have invented this idea, but they used it extremely well: citing your sources. They made it commonplace to back-up claims with quotes (or at least a source and date) from respected newspapers.

1996 - The Contrast Ad

It had been seen before, but again, not to this extent. In his re-election campaign, President Clinton continually framed his arguments in a way that compared himself to his opponent - all the while sounding fair and fact-driven - and casting his opponent as untrustworthy by making his image grainy as well as black and white.

Beyond the images and citations, they typically stayed specific to one issue at a time and could easily be targeted towards specific demographics (in the case below, mothers and young voters).

2008 - Putting it All Together

It’s not difficult to see for yourself how these developments influenced campaign ads in the 2008 election.

Adapting to Change

Campaigns have traditionally spent time, money, and effort producing political ads as a way to introduce a candidate’s message to otherwise uninterested voters - those who don’t pay much attention to the news or the political community. It serves a powerful purpose to bring that message into the home, connecting with these voters in an intimate and personal way.

But like most tactics, the technological developments of the 21st Century are forcing campaigns to rethink how and why they do political TV ads. One problem is what New York Times writer Stuart Elliot calls “The TiVo Challenge.”

From an article he wrote last year:

"Most of the people who are watching ads online are political junkies who've already made up their minds," says Tobe Berkowitz, a communications professor at Boston University. "The reason the candidates still buy a lot of TV ads is that it reaches people who don't pay a lot of attention to the campaign."

But that doesn't mean the Internet and other new technologies aren't changing the rules of the game. One challenge for the 2008 campaigns is how to deal with technology like TiVo that allows viewers to skip the commercials.

"Private-sector companies can do product-placement; candidates can't do that," says Dan Schnur, a professor of political science and communications at the University of Southern California. "You're not going to see Barack Obama fighting terrorists with Jack Bauer. You're not going to see John McCain on So You Think You Can Dance."

These challenges may signal the end of TV's long dominance in campaign advertising. "I think this might be the last big presidential cycle where you see these huge amounts of money spent on television," Berkowitz says. "In another four years, who knows what it will be."

According to some, not only is the dominance of TV ads at risk in campaign politics, but their entire existence is as well.

As Chuck Todd wrote of the “lessons learned” in the 2008 campaign:

“TV ads are overrated: had it not been for the sheer saturation of the television airwaves Obama’s financial advantage allowed him, 2008 might have been known as the year the 30 second TV ad died. It’s becoming more and more difficult for political TV ads to be ‘sticky,’ so good as to be remembered by voters for a period of time…Campaigns need to diversify their attempts at branding beyond the 30 second spot unless they truly have unlimited resources, like Obama.”

If you’re a political junkie, however, don’t worry - we don’t think the 30 second political ad is going to be extinct any time soon. The reason is simple: supporters would think it disastrous to their candidate’s chances of winning.

Throughout this series, we’ve mentioned how little beats voter-to-voter contact in spreading a campaign’s message and winning support. That means candidates have to rely on volunteers to make phone calls and canvass neighborhoods, as well as hopeful donors to finance it all. And just like the disappearance of yard signs would scare a campaign’s donors and volunteers, so would the disappearance of TV spots in a national, statewide, or even congressional election.

So campaigns may need to begin a new strategy of utilizing television ads for a new purpose: encouraging their supporters.

What’s to Come in Political TV Advertising

One prediction is that more campaign ads will be produced, but perhaps seen less on television. With the online age, more and more ads will be emailed, blogged, and seen on YouTube than TV. It will be a more cost effective way to communicate with supporters that expect to see an operational campaign producing ads.

Additionally, ads will become higher-quality and more rapidly produced. Their relevance will be short lived, created for the purpose of encouraging supporters who are living in the day-to-day news of the race.

Take these two ads that addressed concerns from the final debate in the 2008 presidential election - namely, the connection between Sen. John McCain and President George W. Bush. If you remember, McCain landed a memorable line: “Sen. Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.” McCain’s ad also addressed the “spreading the wealth around” quote which he raised in the debate when discussing Joe the Plumber.

As we said in a post the day these ads were released (the day immediately following the debate), “You know that technology is pretty incredible when you can watch a debate that ends at 9:30 PM and see brand-new post-debate presidential campaign ads by 9:30 AM the next day.” Clearly, there is a real purpose behind that strategy.

Finally, we saw in 2008 a possible preview of a dramatic innovation of campaign ads in years to come. In late October, just before GOTV operations began, the Obama campaign released a thirty-minute ad known as the Obama Infomercial. It cost them $3 million to air it on seven major networks, all at 8:00 PM.

As many noted at the time, apathetic voters could easily change the channel - making the efficacy of the ad questionable. Even Jim Margolis, Mr. Obama’s senior advertising strategist, said “Many people have 150 channels; they’ve got plenty of other choices.”

But the infomercial probably wasn’t for the average voter as much as it was for the supporter. Obama had an army of donors and volunteers - millions of them - who all tuned-in to watch the much-talked-about infomercial and become extra-motivated before signing up to knock on doors and make calls for Get-Out-the-Vote weekend.

And if the public financing of elections dissipates - as we suspect it will - and you can raise upwards of $1 billion, then why not put $3 million into an infomercial to boost your volunteer program and increase voter outreach?

So, in presidential elections at least, expect campaigns to target supporters more and more with their TV ads; expect these ads to be more and more congruent with the life of the campaign; and expect political TV advertising to continue - and to evolve even more.

Coming Friday: campaign PR in the 21st Century.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Wealthy Governor Short on Campaign Cash

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from New Jersey

Governor Jon Corzine (D-NJ) has not been short of woes in his tough re-election battle this year, but the one area where he always had the leg-up on GOP opponent Chris Christie in campaign money.

According to a New York Times article last week, however, Corzine is now struggling on that front as well.

[A]fter a costly divorce and a steep decline in his net worth [since the Wall Street collapse last year], Mr. Corzine, the onetime chief executive of Goldman Sachs, is in the unfamiliar position of seeking donations to help foot the bill for his campaign…

…Mr. Corzine is trying to raise upward of $15 million from donors, according to people involved, which he hopes to match with no more than $25 million of his own.

He is calling wealthy donors personally to ask for money, holding receptions and staging larger events, like a performance by Jon Bon Jovi last month.

On Thursday, President Obama joined him at a $5,000- to $10,000-a-plate luncheon expected to raise more than $1 million.

But Obama and Bon Jovi aren’t making the new fundraising experience much easier for Corzine. According to campaign aids, convincing Democrats to foot the bill for a governor that’s well known for his money has been difficult.

Several people trying to raise money for Mr. Corzine described resistance from prospective contributors who asked why the governor did not just reach into his wallet again.

“We always talk about it and joke about it, how it’s like selling sand to the Saudis…people say, ‘I’m having trouble paying my bills; what does he need my money for?’”

Of course, a campaign’s finance operation is not an island to itself - the results of a fundraiser, for instance, can often have a great impact on the political nature of a campaign’s efforts.

Take, for example, the Bon Jovi fundraising concert…

Mr. Corzine drew screaming rock ’n’ roll fans from as far as Hartford to a fundraiser in Newark headlined by Mr. Bon Jovi.

Some had come for the music, not the politics. Among them was Judy Grabler, a homemaker from Edison, N.J., who called Mr. Corzine “out of touch” and said she opposed much of what he had done as governor.

Sitting in a $300 seat, Ms. Grabler said she was appalled when the singer disappeared after only three numbers. “I kept thinking he would be back after the speeches,” she said of Mr. Bon Jovi. But he did not return.

Nor did hundreds of Corzine donors who had filed out just before the governor took the stage.

Frankly, that is not the sort of image a campaign wants to present to voters.

None of this is unfamiliar to campaign professionals who have seen wealthier candidates try to raise money rather than self-fund their campaigns. Nor is the current slump surprising to those who work in political fundraising. We mentioned back in February that the current recession doesn’t appear to be leaving campaign politics as a safe industry.

Luckily for Corzine, Christie isn’t doing much better on the fundraising side of things. The Republican depends on the state’s public finance system to provide matching funds, but that limits his campaign spending to $11 million this cycle. Corzine could easily spend all of the $40 million he hopes to raise from private donors and put in himself.

But that’s still short of the combined $100 million he’s put into his races in the past when he was more popular. Now, trailing in the polls by as much as 10 points, a four-to-one cash advantage might not be enough.

We’ll have to wait and see.