JoTo-Ism: Put PR Back into Local Politics

a_closed_mouth_gathers_no_foot_mug-p168960309782163027z89we_400-300x300.jpgA hot set of questions from the following heated letter showed up in my mailbag. Along with some PR tips, I asked around to see what people thought politicians should do to increase their r-e-l-a-t-i-o-n-s with the public. If you think that I missed anything, holler!

Check it out:

“Dear KJ:  

“I am running for a local political office. I was wondering if you could give me some pointers on political PR.

“Signed, Keeping My Feet out of My Mouth

“Specifically I would like to know about the following: ”

Foot: Is public relations at the local level any different that state or national?

  • KJ: PR for local politics is a different game than the state or national level. Your public r.e.l.a.t.i.o.n.s. in the community is a big deal – not AFTER you get into office… but BEFORE.  Such as, have you been a proponent of a better economic environment for your local city government?  What have you done?  Who all have you helped?  What have you accomplished?  You need to be able to SHOW this and must SHOW it in your campaign.

Foot: Should I debate my opponent?

  • KJ: You can do this if there is a standard venue for this in your area.  If there is, then find out all about it – study the past politicians that were considered to have done this successfully and find out why – emulate that if you can.
    • What you need to show is your track record as a citizen and in business – what have you done as a citizen to help your local city?  How active have you been?  If you have been an employee, and not a business owner, what organizations have you contributed to that helped your city or county?
    • If you are a returning politician up for re-election – what you have done is important but you should not play that up over saying in addition what you will do if re-elected.  They will listen to you IF you have stuck to your guns and did what you said you would do – this is how you open your discussions on issues, and debates – a little bit about what you have done that is RELEVANT and then go into what you WILL DO about a current issue.

barack_obama_foot_in_his_mouth_speckcase-p176629384850045347vu1z1_400-300x300.jpgFoot: Should I be open about my past even if it has some “nasties”?

  • KJ: You have to be – there is no getting around this if you are a public official. But you need to get media trained on how to handle it if it comes up.

Foot: Do I send out a press release on my candidacy?

  • KJ: Yes, and you should send release out regularly…not just one.  Your chance for people to know and understand you can only come from PR – grassroots PR such as going to meetings and events and meeting people, and also via the media channels that your target market reads, listens to or watches.  Marketing cannot do what PR can – you cannot get that much copy on a postcard or a flier – plus marketing is not as trusted a source as PR channels – people know you are trying to “sell” them something.  PR uses 3rd-party endorsements to add credibility to your message. Then your marketing postcards can work.  So many times I get marketing postcards and I have no idea who the candidate is, what he/she stands for OR if the marketing message is even truthful – people want to know beforehand  something credible about you before  they get asked to “buy.”

Foot: How do intro myself as new and different?

  • KJ: Marketing research – treat your election as a business.  What does your target market need and want?  (And yes, you DO have a target market – it is not everybody.  For instance – who are those that vote?)  What are they not getting from who is in office now?  What frustrations do they have?  How are you going to be able to help them achieve those goals or overcome those frustrations by you being in office?  What do they want to know about a politician?  What do they like about  politicians?  What do they dislike about politicians?  These questions will tell you what you need to do, how you need to introduce yourself and what you need to provide IF you do make it in office. Marketing research is vital to a campaign.

insert-foot-in-mouth.pngFoot: How do I avoid putting my foot in my mouth?

  • KJ: So many politicians are their own worst enemy… they think that speaking in public or to the media is the same as a one-on-one conversation.  You need media training and public speaking training – you’d be surprised at the number of politicians that do not have this…. Hence the foot in mouth syndrome.  Don’t think you will “wing it” or you will learn as you go along.  Once you make enemies by saying the wrong thing, it’s hard to get their support back – plus people like to spread bad news… it unfortunately is human nature.  Do yourself a favor – get trained.  Public speaking and speaking to the media operate on a very different set of rules – sometimes, the opposite of what you would do conversationally.

Foot:  Are there other ways to distinguish myself?

  • KJ: YES!!  No one does this and it would REALLY set you apart.  You need to educate your constituents on what your office does, what your position can do, is allowed to do and what it cannot do.  People don’t understand this – educate them on what a county commissioner does and is supposed to do, what a council member does and is supposed to do, etc.  Become the expert.  This will go farther than just talking about your platform – and people will understand you better.

Foot: Anything else you can think of that I need to know?

  • KJ: The last thing that is missing is the other target markets that the politician has to work with once he DOES get into office.  No one ever thinks of this – so they run for office, get it and try to implement what their constituents said they needed and wanted. But they never think about campaigning to win over those that are already IN government – those that they need to change once they get into office.  That’s the real politics.  Campaigning these people should begin the instant once gets into office – and before if you can, as much as you can.  And it should be planned out way beforehand.  You never know the allies they might have that could support you.

Good luck in the polls,

~Karla Jo

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