As you read this, you might be one of many folks around the country who are not jubilant, not morose, but simply relieved the elections are over.
And no wonder: A barrage of advertising messages, direct mail, telemarketing from pollsters interrupting dinner, and constant IMs and emails finally concluded last night.
Hindsight is 20-20
Both campaigns made PR mistakes. There was, for example, Romney's ill-timed press conference after the tragedy in Libya, and Obama's inaccurate economic stats in his first debate. Both errors resulted in “needle movement” in the polls, and in keeping the undecided, well, undecided, until they went into the booth yesterday to punch in their decision.
Know your facts. And know your place. Sometimes it’s OK to seize the limelight, other times it’s not. You have to know—or to be able to advise your clients—on the difference.
Can’t buy me love, err, votes
It’s estimated that approximately $2 billion was spent in advertising during the campaign
. That’s a horrible waste of funds. In fact, it's now the new low barometer for future presidential races. I’ve lost count of the number of friends in Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado who complained mightily that they were simply worn out from the ads and partisan criticism.
Both the World Series and NFL games were inundated with combative political commercials instead of the usual humorous “adult beverage” ads. Bad mistake—there’s a limit to “getting your message across.” If you know your audience, you’ll also know when not to hit them.
Hook ’em, horns!
The public communication extravaganzas of this campaign cycle—including successful conventions in both Florida and North Carolina, and certainly the three presidential debates—were fascinating. Not just from the political point of view, but in demonstrating the power of the spoken word, and its impact. Consider:
• Obama's poor performance in Debate No. 1 gave Romney the ability to even the playing field, making election night a nail biter. Did you expect that would happen? Probably not.
• Obama perked up during the second and third debates, making it evident he properly rehearsed (something I saw President Clinton do ad nauseam when I was on his staff). They say, “practice makes perfect” for a reason.
• For the most part, the major networks stayed away from their usual partisan shots—even Fox News played it straight (aside from Karl Rove demanding anchor Megyn Kelly question the network’s pollsters about their Ohio call), reporting on both candidates' campaign speeches and rallies.
In an age in which communication is easier than ever before, thanks to the digitization of media and communication, it can also be tougher than ever before. Which makes it all the more important to get back to the basics: what are you trying to achieve? And are you communicating that in the right way, to the right people, at the right time? And if not, why bother?
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Neil Dhillon is managing director of MSL Washington DC, and also leads the firm’s public affairs practice. He has more than 25 years of experience providing strategic communications and public affairs counsel for a wide variety of clients, as well as serving during the Clinton administration.