Messaging lessons from the State of the Union, Iowa and more

The news cycle has been amplified with the kickoff of the primaries in Iowa, Trump’s impeachment trial and the State of the Union. Here are some messaging takeaways.

Much of the national conversation in 2020 will be centered on politics—and that was most evident this week as several big events occurred in rapid succession.

The Super Bowl was followed by the Iowa caucuses (launching the presidential primary season), then the State of the Union address came on the eve of the final vote on President Donald Trump’s impeachment in the U.S. Senate.

One key lesson is that the window for getting your news out there will be extremely short.

Here are some takeaways from a busy week in the news about how to help your message break through and resonate with your target audience:

1. Engage on social media.

Many Super Bowl ads over the years have repurposed characters, video and themes from the gameday spot to a longer campaign on social media. The organizations that have done this well have extended their investment—and the conversation about their product, service or message—long after that year’s Super Bowl left the minds of many Americans.

Adopt a long view when thinking about how your brand managers will engage and converse on social media. Start introducing key themes and characters early in the process. However, you will have to be careful about platforms’ protocols.

Planter’s had a plan for its story about the death of Mr. Peanut and the rebirth of “Baby Nut” that was tailor-made for online meme culture and internet debate. However, some accounts it had planned to use to push its message were quashed by Twitter for violating its terms of service. The company’s months of work concluded with headlines about what it got wrong instead of riding its meme into the marketing sunset.

Some brands also went too far to bring its audience too deep into the process. P&G’s Super Bowl ad was apparently “crowdsourced” or inspired by fans.

Fox Business reported:

P&G brands Bounty, Charmin, Old Spice, Febreze, Mr. Clean, Olay and Head & Shoulders came together in another multi-brand ad, which was billed as interactive.

New York ad agency Woven used technology developed by Israeli startup Eko to allow viewers to choose the destiny of the commercial. Viewers could vote online several days in advance of the ad’s air time to decide how they wanted actors to clean up a disastrous spill, according to AdAge.

The result was a commercial that was jumbled and confusing for some:

2. Silence isn’t golden.

The Iowa caucuses afforded the Democratic party an opportunity to create a narrative about its potential nominee in the 2020 presidential election. It’s an important moment for a party that has felt divided over a huge field of candidates and has struggled to capture the spotlight amid a flurry of major political moments.

Then, when Iowa had the nation’s attention—the process fell apart.

Iowa won’t be the only state that doesn’t have election results to share right away. By many estimates, California will take weeks to count all the mail-in ballots for a final tally. However, the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) failed to offer answers when asked why it was taking so long to report delegate totals.

As a result, news anchors tried to fill the airwaves by musing about potential problems with the ciphering, and online conspiracy theorists cast doubt on the integrity of the election process.

The IDP might be 2020’s poster child for what happens when you don’t have a crisis response plan.

The party knew it faced unique challenges. It was collecting new data and trying to be more transparent than ever. It was trying to collect the vote with an untested app. What could possibly go wrong?

Instead of having a comprehensive answer for cable TV reporters trying to fill airtime, the party kept spitting out holding statements that didn’t allay concerns over a problem with the process.

When the final statement came out, saying that the app had been reporting partial data, the IDP’s reputation was tarnished. Now many are saying we might have witnessed the last Iowa caucuses for the Democratic primary.

Reputation matters.

3. Don’t underestimate the element of surprise.

For his State of the Union address, Trump relied on his chops as a reality show star to bring a little show business to the floor of the house.

One of the many surprises he offered was to give Rush Limbaugh, a conservative radio host who recently announced he was diagnosed with lung cancer, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the middle of his speech. The move was raucously cheered by Republicans in the chamber, and the emotion of the moment seemed to touch many.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi might have gotten the last word, however, when she ripped up her copy of the speech after Trump finished his remarks. The act was one of the leading talking points in coverage of the evening, despite what some pundits felt was a strong performance for the president ahead of the impeachment vote on Wednesday.

In both instances, a bold action drove headlines and commentary, revealing the power of a surprise moment to capture an audience’s imagination.

For PR pros and brand managers who hope to grab the spotlight in this year of election drama, being able to surprise an audience will be a crucial skill.

4. Social media might matter more than the live event.

If you build a strategy around a live event where you hope to drive further engagement online, campaign discipline will be paramount.

For Trump, a strong night on the floor of the House was followed by an abusive tirade on his social media accounts. Instead of focusing on his message of a buoyant economy, Trump’s Twitter feed focused attacks on the leader of the opposition.

Though these tactics will go over well with some, many studies reveal that large numbers of Americans are looking for more positivity and harmony from the media they consume.

Will Trump’s social media rancor overshadow his speech? Which one, in the end, will be more important to his audience?

It’s conceivable that his tweets, for better or for worse, will have a far more lasting impact than his State of the Union address.



3 Responses to “Messaging lessons from the State of the Union, Iowa and more”

    Ronald N. Levy says:

    What makes this report a treasure, more than what’s in many other newsletters, is that this one like others in PR Daily communicates insights that help us to be more successful and without trying to sell us any point of view.

    With public issues and when we’re trying to help an account, a hard but important part is getting past our own preferences and focusing on what will be best for the client. Also important with reports on public issues is to think of whether we’re reading the actual news or whether the journalist is trying to sell us something, an opinion.

    Perspective is important because if we look down from an airplane window at a horse, it can look like like a violin. But importantly it’s not a violin nor–regardless of perspective–just a horse’s rear end.

    Ronald N. Levy says:

    A lesson that may not have sunk in yet is that not only does money talk but what it says can be so persuasive as to decide elections.

    Look at the top two winners in Iowa, Biden and Buttigieg.

    FOSSIL FUELS. Biden has said repeatedly that we need to get off fossil fuels. Top coal-producing states are Wyoming, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Kentucky. Will the vote of those states figure what the hell, we’ll just get money by mining something else?

    Top oil-producing states include Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, California and North Dakota. Can a candidate figure that who needs those states, or that producing states will care more about the environment than about their incomes?

    FERTILIZERS. After the Iowa caucuses, Biden said all the fertilizer runoff is polluting our water so we need to use less fertilizer. Will America’s farmers decide that despite Biden’s position, farmers need Biden more than they need fertilizers and the extra income per acre that fertilizers help farmers earn??

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