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Election 2016: Top PR Takeaways


By: Emily Pirt, Director of Staff Relations

It’s no secret that election years are some of the most profitable for advertising agencies, but there is also a lot to be gained from aspiring PR professionals, too. Presidential campaign seasons are notorious for being unpredictable, and this year certainly hasn’t disappointed. Here are just a few of my takeaways from the race thus far:

Expect the Unexpected:

If you would have told me a year ago that a real estate mogul, a neurosurgeon, a Hewlett-Packard executive and a Democratic socialist would all enter the race for the White House, I would have waited for you to deliver the punch line. 2016 has proven to be the year of the outsider, with all candidates vying for the title of “Most Likely to NOT Be a Politician.”

However, this anti-establishment newcomer status should reassure PR professionals that even the most fruitless campaigns can have hope. While some campaigns have a shorter shelf life than others, it is important to find your target audience and form a solid foundation of support before broadening your network.

Authenticity is Key

If you want to get attention, especially from the millennials, authenticity should be the cornerstone of your campaign. Untraditional candidates (i.e. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders) have been steamrolling the competition in the Gen Y demographic, simply because they are true to who they are.

A poll from the Harvard Institute of Politics found that authenticity is considered one of the top-three most valued traits in a presidential candidate. The same logic carries over to your favorite brands. Why do people obsessively follow brands like Taco Bell and Denny’s on Twitter? Because they are unabashedly true to their brand identity. The same goes for political candidates.

Tweet Your Way to the Top

Don’t underestimate the power of a catchy hashtag. While Twitter use as a whole seems to have plateaued (or flatlined, depending on who you talk to), hashtags are still a great way to simplify a campaign’s message. The best example by far is the Sanders campaign’s #FeelTheBern hashtag.

For millennials – who are already more inclined to use social media to begin with – this hashtag has become ubiquitous on virtually every social media platform. The hashtag itself is catchy, short and a bit cocky; the perfect recipe for content sharing.

An honorable mention also goes to Rand Paul for adopting the #Festivus hashtag to promote his platform, while also throwing some well placed shade on his fellow Republican counterparts.

My Take:

This election season can only get more heated from here on out. Social media will continue to play a huge role for candidates moving forward, as this will compliment traditional door knocking and phone banking used in grassroots campaigning. While “authenticity” is the flavor of the month for millennials, I project that candidates will be forced to tone down their unfiltered authenticity if they want any hope at winning over the indecisive moderates.

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