By Meghan Ott
This post is part of the Conference Series, where 2016 PRSSA National Conference attendees from AU PRSSA reflect on the lessons they learned from the conference’s events and panels. Click here for more conference blogs.
As I explore the many branches of Public Relations, I have finally begun to have a clearer understanding of my future. The “Knowing What to Say” session at the National PRSSA Conference in Indianapolis, gave me a new understanding and appreciation for political communication.
The first speaker was Anne Hathaway, president of Hathaway Strategies, and former program director for the 2012 Republican National Convention. Joining Hathaway on the stage was Jane Jankowski. who was the press secretary and communications director for Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels from 2004 to 2013.
The two started off by explaining that every campaign is different, and there is no mold that works perfectly for each race. They used the example of the emergence of social media in the 2012 election. Neither of the speakers worked on this year’s presidential election, and instead decided to focus on more localized elections.
According to statistics and polling, all candidates in this past election cycle were undesirable. Therefore, Hathaway and Jankowski focused on local elections. Hathaway explains that the top of the ticket has a great effect on the bottom of the ticket, so if the party’s presidential candidate is doing poorly, it translates the state and local elections as well. It is all about attracting the candidate’s followers as well as those who are not so thrilled to vote in local elections.
When preparing a political candidate for an election, Hathaway and Jankowski give 13 rules to live by:
- Make sure they know WHY they want to run
- Always tell the truth
- Be accurate
- Pay attention to timing
- Understand the circumstances around you
- Know when to be disciplined
- Know when you can have fun
- Know when to say nothing (saying no comment is saying something)
- Stick to your talking points
- Stick to three to five key issues
- It is okay not to know everything
- Establish relationships with reporters
- Engage grassroots organizations
The two ladies go on to explain that crisis communication has changed a great deal. Crises are more frequent and more visible. You have to stay alert and informed. It is particularly important to pay attention to news and media sources that do not lean your way. While it is nice to hear what you want to hear, echo chambers can be very dangerous in an election.
Finally, Hathaway leaves the group with a parting piece of advice, “your reputation is all you’ve got” she cautions that you have to know what you stand for, and an election can either make or break you.