Political Communications – A breakdown

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There are basically two types of political communication: the kind you pay for (paid media) and the kind you don’t (earned media). Paid media refers to things like direct mail, flyers, campaign literature, TV and radio commercials and newspaper ads that you might buy in the days leading up to Election Day.  I would also include websites and email newsletters to this list.  Earned media are things like news coverage, which may appear in the newspaper, on local radio or television news broadcasts.  You garner that sort of attention through press releases and press conferences.  Let’s look at the pros and cons of each:

Paid Media Pros:

  • You control your own message
  • You speak directly to the voters
  • You determine medium, content and quality of the finished product
Paid Media Cons:
  • It’s costly
  • It can be discounted as junk mail or campaign propaganda by the recipient
  • It’s difficult to pinpoint and ensure delivery to your intended target audience
Earned Media Pros:
  • It gives you credibility
  • It’s free
  • It is distributed through channels (newspaper, talk radio, TV news) that tends to have a higher voting audience (more likely to hit your target)
Earned Media Cons:
  • Your message is filtered through (probably liberal) reporters and journalists
  • It’s difficult and never a guarantee you’ll even be covered
  • It takes time more in relationship building and planning
These are the traditional political communications channels.  However, a new, third channel has been developing for the past decade or so with the dawn of the internet: Social Media.  Social Media refers to relatively new forms of communication like blogging, Twitter (micro-blogging) and Facebook (social networking) that have come about as part of the new information age we are currently swimming in.
For major political candidates, like the current GOP presidential hopefuls, for example, it can spur a meteoric rise to the top of the ‘polls,’ and just as quickly tear that star right out of the sky.  For local candidates it still really hasn’t had an impact, but that doesn’t mean its not worth investing some time in.  We’ll add Social media pros and cons for good measure.
Social Media Pros:
  • Cheap/free
  • Control your own message
  • Encourages interaction with users
  • Encourages users to share your message with others, thus providing some credibility
  • Wildly unknown audience – there’s really no way to determine if users are actually voters or in your district
  • They talk back (and not always nicely)
  • Requires significant effort to maintain
In the coming few posts, we’ll dig deeper into each of these three areas.  For this very moment, however, take some time to think about each one, and ask yourself:
  • Am I addressing all of these communication channels in my campaign plan?
  • Which should I pursue first/most?
  • Which will be the most useful in my particular district and voter make up?
  • Do I have budget lines for each of these?
  • Do I know people who can help me craft and deliver messages in each of these channels, or how do I find that kind of help?

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