Tuesday, June 17, 2008

communications lessons from the trail

(UPDATE: Check out a post on our sister blog, The Eloquent Woman, on tips speakers can glean from John McCain's efforts to shift to a more formal speaking style.) Communicators don't need to take sides in the upcoming presidential election--but the savvy communicator will be looking for lessons to glean from all the political campaigns, which always push the envelope in use of new media and other techniques for getting a message across. Recent articles offer these insights you can adapt to your organization's uses:
*Let video tell your story--but leave out slick production. "Authenticity is more prized online than high production values - the only thing worse than being caught in a gaffe is being perceived as overscripted. For much of the first half of the campaign, analysts say, Clinton was overscripted," notes the San Franciso Chronicle article on video trends, recalling the campaign's launch video takeoff on The Sopranos misfired for just this reason. Instead, get ready to get caught in a more natural setting, and plan for audience interaction--not just a one-way message.

*Remember, the cameras are everywhere. Authenticity's a must for another reason: citizens now own the tools to record, broadcast and republish everything you say and do, no matter how small. This campaign, on all sides, found non-journalists breaking some of the biggest stories and missteps. NPR's roundup of e-campaigners' advice: "Unless you're the best actors in the world (which one could argue politicians are), you must be authentic because the Web is just that, a web of information, discussion, images - and if anything you do smells like a rat, millions of people will catch a whiff. " Being authentic also means being comfortable with this changing scene. NPR also notes that McCain--the first candidate to use the Internet for fundraising back in 2000--laughed off an online video of him parodying "Barbara Ann" with "bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" as 'joking around.' It worked to diffuse the gaffe.

*Offer your audience source documents and other ways to participate with information, not just news releases. The Atlantic looks at the changes an Obama presidency might make in how the government shares information with citizens: "What Obama seems to promise is, at its outer limits, a participatory democracy in which the opportunities for participation have been radically expanded. He proposes creating a public, Google-like database of every federal dollar spent. He aims to post every piece of non-emergency legislation online for five days before he signs it so that Americans can comment. A White House blog—also with comments—would be a near certainty. "
*Don't assume people can find you. Mention your website. Pundits are still debating whether the Obama campaign was more web-savvy, as this Atlantic article does, or whether the Clinton campaign's demographic base was just less web-oriented. Either way, the New York Times notes, it became essential --not just an afterthought--for Clinton herself to urge audiences to go to her website to donate, by telling them the URL. The result: A marked upturn in online donations.

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