In our brave new world where the bloggers never sleep and the tweets never stop, victories on the political messaging front are increasingly difficult to win. In part, it’s due to the fact that political controversies are all the rage, dominating the modern, 24/7 news cycle.
To meet the demand for content, elected officials are often expected to share their opinions on issues in which they may lack experience.
This drives communications teams to spend their days trolling Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, or Medium for trending content with the hope that a tweet or status update will shine the temporary spotlight on their boss.
But while political speech is a growing component of people’s daily social media routines, it’s becoming more and more polarizing and the waters progressively difficult to navigate for communicators.
As someone who has spent the better part of the last decade writing for campaigns, advocacy groups, and elected officials, I’ve put together a few “Pillars of Political Communications.”
These tenets can help writers score wins with readers from across the political spectrum and possibly pick up a few supporters along the way.
1) Know Your Brand
Door-to-door canvassing and late-night fundraising calls aside, the most important thing any campaign can do is ask, “What’s our brand?”
At their core, campaigns are an endeavor in marketing. They are an opportunity to sell a product. The product just happens to be an idea or a person, and the consumer a voter.
Knowing your campaign’s product – or defining your “why” – is the first step toward effectively marketing what you’re trying to accomplish–your goal. And once you’ve determined that mission, it gives the campaign a compass which always points true north to your message.
2) Say What You’re Going to Say
As political writers, we are in the business of selling ideas to voters. But we shouldn’t be in the business of arguing ideas with the voter. There’s a way to engage in the arena of ideas and yet maintain a respect for the process which allows for constructive, intelligent conversation. Say what you’re going to say but say it with respect of other viewpoints – and then get the heck out of Dodge! There’s no need to say with 100 words what you could with 10. It’s better to make your point and get out of there instead of hemming and hawing to effectively say nothing at all. By simply avoiding the political double-talk and filler, your point will hit home harder.
3) Speak from Common Ground
When writing to an audience of diverse backgrounds and differing views, build your rationale from a place of common ground, i.e., we agree there is an issue with illegal immigration in the US, but we differ on how to enforce the country’s laws and the best ways to secure the border. There’s a way to say what you’re going to say without leaving a bad taste in people’s mouths.
4) Keep it Real
Essential to the success of any political campaign is the ability read your audience, hear their concerns, and communicate your message in a clear manner. But authenticity is the key. Speak candidly, and neither speak down to nor at voters–no one likes to feel belittled. People don’t want political jargon. Talk with voters as if you’re having a friendly conversation at dinner. Authenticity often translates to relatability and trustworthiness, and the more folks relate to and trust your campaign, the easier your message sticks.
5) Make Your Words Matter
Finally, the words you chose matter and so does their order. Occam’s razor argues that “the simplest answer is most often correct,” and the same goes with writing. Be clear in your communication. Political writers often find themselves trying to convey convoluted ideas, but if these messages are too complex or sound too “inside baseball,” you’re starting from a disadvantage because you’ve already lost half your audience. Again, campaign communications need to be real to the audience. And if you’re explaining, you’re losing. Convey messages in the simplest, clearest way possible, and you’ll be all set.