The PR Professional’s Guide To Post-Election Analyses: Four Things To Look For

Remember how the 2008 US presidential election gave birth to a number of topics that filled PR seminars and ‘thought leadership’ content for months, if not years, afterward?

It was hard to get more than three PR people together in a hotel conference room without one claiming to have invented crowd-sourced campaign content, like the Hope poster, or unleashing the power of owned (versus paid or earned) media content, like Sarah Palin’s Facebook posts, or unlocking the doors to massive youth engagement through micro targeting and clever graphic design.

Elections, like the Olympics or major oil spills or Arab Springs, are like Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s: the leftovers far outlast the meal, often with diminishing quality. And yet we PR peeps – never ones to let possible lessons learned go unappreciated – gobble them up like turkey and pie.

So what can we expect from the Mega-Billions 2012 Election Extravaganza?

Anything lasting two years and costing 72 gazillion dollars, with round the clock carpet-bombing ads and a new Twitter hashtag every 1.7 seconds, all in search of 22 undecided voters in Ohio, has to be instructive to those of us in the industry, right?

Here are four areas I’m hoping – seriously – the experts will parse, package and present for our general use and enjoyment in the non-political world:

  1. The deification of data.  Nate Silver is a god (or a demon), right?  Polls have been around for decades of course, but the attention lavished on them this time – their design, sampling assumptions, auto vs. live, land-line vs. cell phone, skews and timing – was truly astonishing. Why? Because with the right analytics behind them, they can pretty much predict the future. Or at least the future actions of those represented in a well-designed and cleverly queried sample of the population. I wonder if this is the long-anticipated tipping point for the inclusion of real data into general communications planning as a standard operating procedure rather than a nice-to-have-if-we-have-leftover-budget luxury? Time will tell but I suspect it’s already too late to book Nate into next year’s PRSA conference or Paul Holmes’s Summit.
  2. Ground games and air wars. Much has been made of the billions poured into the advertising air waves, a lot of it negative, by both campaigns. Who knows? Maybe this was a key factor in the outcome. I suspect, however, the more influential force in Obama’s ultimate success was his superior grass-roots organization and infrastructure. Hard to beat human interaction when it comes to getting people to do what you want them to do. I’d love to get real insight into what worked and what did not.
  3. The power – or impotence – of social media memes. I’d like to see some data on the impact of memes like #EmptyChair or #RomneyShambles.  Is there a way to calculate the link between a viral hashtag and voter preference (or intent to purchase, or desire to quit smoking or get tested for HIV)?  And can these be designed, or must they spontaneously generate themselves to have a real effect?
  4. Connecting with diverse audiences. Early results seem to suggest that President Obama won at least in part because he was able to connect to a diverse electorate in ways that Mr. Romney was not. This undoubtedly has a lot to do with policies, platforms, and perhaps the candidates themselves. But in an increasingly diverse – and global – market, it’s easy to see the benefits of constructing a team of communicators who can identify and connect with audiences of different ethnicities, languages, ages, income levels and, of course, gender. Avril Lee, who runs our UK business, has made it a business priority to diversify her workforce, and this seems to be pragmatic response to a changing world. It certainly can’t hurt to mirror the very people you’re trying to understand and convince and, in Mr. Obama’s case, it may be exactly how to win an election for the most powerful job on the planet.

If you come across (or have your own) analyses or perspectives on any of these, I’d love to see them.  In the meantime, I’ve got some discussion panels to fill at upcoming conferences in the U.S. and Europe, so if you have a contact at Fivethirtyeight.com, let me know!

As a Senior Partner, CEO of Ketchum’s European operations and Chairman of the London office, David Gallagher brings more than 20 years of public relations experience, both as a client and as a senior agency adviser, to some of the world’s leading brands and companies. Interested in PR, politics, Texas Longhorns and life with two labradoodles. Follow him on Twitter @TBoneGallagher.