Tag Archives: Candidate

Advice for Primary Elections

Gossip circulates in the months, if not years, leading up to races for prominent seats in government. Sometimes, a single offhand comment from a high-profile politician is all it takes to spark candidacy rumors. As the political hype gains momentum, the question begins to echo across news outlets and social media platforms – who will represent our interests in public office?

 

Primary elections in the United States offer interested party members their first opportunity to officially toss their hats in the ring and present themselves as candidates for office. It further serves to narrow the competition in preparation for the general election. In the primaries, voters are responsible for choosing a single candidate to represent their political party in political races. Each state has its own rules about who can vote for which candidate in the primary; some limit voters to choose only those representatives within their own party, while others allow all voters – regardless of their party registration – to vote for the candidate of their choice. Regardless of state-specific details, though, the primary elections present the first hurdles candidates need to clear in pursuit of public office, and thus require strategies different from those deployed in general elections.

 

Stay Positive

As I’ve written before, there are significant risks to diving into a negative campaign early on. According to statistics provided by the Conversation, a full 76% of television ads run in 2016 were character-based smear ads. The trend towards negativity is inarguable; however, candidates who utilize smear tactics run the risk of alienating otherwise interested voters. Moreover, surveys indicate that attack ads may in some cases drive voters toward the smeared party out of distaste for the attacking candidate and sympathy for the attacked. Candidates participating in primary elections should make an effort to stay positive for as long as possible in order to maintain the moral high ground and voters’ goodwill.

 

Start Early

Waiting to the last moment to declare candidacy may spark headlines, but the media flash a shock announcement makes will not have the same long-term effect that a quieter but more thorough PR job will. Candidates should begin building the foundation for their candidacy as soon as the time for campaigning draws near. If voters cannot recognize a candidate’s name or identify their core positions, that political hopeful is unlikely to succeed in the primaries.

 

Build a significant web presence.

The influence of online media cannot be understated. While traditional in-person events should never be allowed to fall by the wayside, candidates should spend a significant amount of their PR time and attention ensuring a strong online presence that accurately represents their character and politics. Having a sturdy, informative website and active social media profiles will help a candidate engage with voters in a way that isn’t always possible at large events.

 

The importance primary elections hold in our democratic system is considerable. These races challenge would-be candidates to prove themselves more suited to office than their peers and as such, demand careful strategic thought from candidates during a campaign.  Those who aspire to office should consider their plans for voter engagement carefully before leaping into the race.

Camera Ready: How to Prep for a Televised Interview

The day is September 28, 1960, and depending on how you tuned in, Richard Nixon just won a historic debate against John F. Kennedy. Most historical sources name JFK as the winner of that debate in September – but had it not been for the onset of broadcast television in politics, Nixon may well have been listed as the winner. According to TIME magazine, those surveyed after the debate fell into two remarkably disparate camps: those who had heard the debate over radio broadcast and believed Nixon had won handily, and those who had watched the debate on live television and thought that JFK had snatched a victory.

 

This particular event was a turning point for politicians and the media. Prior to that day, coverage for political events were confined to radio broadcasts. The onset of television coverage allowed the American people to see the politicians they had previously only heard – and the televised Nixon, who was still pale and recovering from a recent hospitalization, appeared frail against the younger and more vital-looking JFK.

 

From a standpoint of logical debate, Nixon may have been the winner of the night – but under the harsh gaze of a camera, he was left disadvantaged. When broadcasted across radio waves, a candidate’s points are boiled down to the bare arguments and policies.  Television, in contrast, pushes the viewers to make additional judgements based on a candidate’s body language, wardrobe, and expression.

 

If Nixon’s hardship with television teaches aspiring politicians anything, it is that candidates should be prepared to face the media in all of its forms. Readying for an interview requires considerable thought and dedicated preparation time. Here few steps a candidate should complete before a broadcast interview.

 

Set the interview context.

Where will the interview take place? How long will it be expected to continue for? Which topics will you be discussing?

 

All of these questions need to be answered in detail before a candidate tapes on a mic. An interview at a campaign office has a different context and requires different in-office preparation than an interview recorded at a studio. A candidate who walks in without proper knowledge of what the interview will be focused on risks appearing confused, disorganized, or even uninformed on-camera.

 

Walk in prepared! Set expectations well before the interview date, and arrange accordingly.

 

Do your research.

“Winging it” may have been a useful strategy during college finals, but it should never be included in a candidate’s toolbox. The last thing aspiring political figures want is to appear out-of-touch with current political events – or worse, with their own policies.

 

Make sure to review national and local current events as well as your held campaign policies and the opposition’s arguments against them. Have snappy quotes and statistics in hand to support your position, and consider running a few recorded practice interviews. This will not only help you prepare, but it will also help you find body language or tics that translate poorly on screen.

 

Prepare your staff.

Most reporters won’t be satisfied with simply talking to a candidate – to get a full picture, they may wander around the office in search of a talkative campaign aide. Remember, everything is on the record unless a specific agreement is made to prohibit recorded comment – so talk to your staff! Warn them of the reporter’s visit well in advance, and then again on the day of the interview. Circulate a memo with official talking points to avoid confusion, and consider appointing a media-savvy staffer to act as a guide for the reporter.  

 

Finally, remember to clean up the campaign office before the visit! No candidate wants to be known as the politician who can’t keep their own house in order.

 

Stay clear, concise, and on-message.

Speakers will do nearly anything to avoid awkward silences – and reporters know it! In fact, many use long pauses as a means to encourage the interviewee to talk more. Left unchecked, a nervous interviewee might break off onto a rambling tangent, and drop their well-thought-out talking points.


Stay concise and directed! Answer questions, but remember not to wander off onto conversational paths that will land you in hot political water later. Prepare clear talking points, and stick to them!

 

Building positive rapport with the media is a must for all candidates – so prepare for interviews accordingly! Without proper care, eager candidates may well end find themselves in Nixon’s position, and lose their logical edges under a camera’s superficial gaze.

How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship with the Press

Although the First Amendment guarantees our right to a free press, relationships between the media and politicians have always been tense. For example, President John F. Kennedy had a relationship with the press that at times devolved into censorship, withholding of information, and at times deception in order to contain stories the administration considered hostile to its goals. The relationships between politicians and reporters doesn’t need to be so extreme, however, so if you’re running for office, take a look at what you can do to foster a healthy relationship with the press!

Don’t Hide

You may feel tempted to avoid talking to the press altogether, but this idea will more than likely backfire. If you don’t talk to the media and try to keep them at arm’s length, then they’ll grow to distrust you and try to dig into your past in an attempt to learn what, if anything, you’re trying to hide. In addition, if you refuse to discuss your ideas or your campaign with reporters, the result will be critical coverage and articles that may drive public opinion against you.

Instead, from time to time, reach out to journalists so that you can take control of the narrative of your campaign. You can set the terms of the meeting: If you want to talk in-depth about a policy or if you’re afraid of being ambushed by a large group of reporters, consider hosting one-on-one interviews. On the other hand, if you want to quickly issue a few statements and avoid looking like you’ve got something to hide, then regular press conferences might be the best approach for you.

Talk to a Range of Media Outlets

Resist the urge to grant press access only to the outlets that give you favorable coverage. This opens you up to accusations of cronyism and an unwillingness to listen to criticism. At the same time, since the audiences of the publications or programs that support you are most likely going to vote for you on election day, only reaching out to reporters who have covered you favorably isn’t going to attract many new or undecided voters–if any at all–to your cause.

With that in mind, stay in touch with a range of journalists, both those who support you as well as those who have been critical. You’ll dispel notions of favoritism or pandering while working to engage a broader swath of the electorate.

Be Honest

If you’re dishonest with a reporter and it comes to light, that might be the last thing you do as a candidate for public office. Lying destroys your credibility and reputation not just with the press but with the voters as well, and as a result, your campaign will more than likely be finished. You can work with your campaign staff to determine what language you want to use, but even when it’s uncomfortable to tell the truth, never, never, lie to the press!