October 30, 2008

Why Polls Matter

Posted in In the news, Political Punditry tagged at 1:29 pm by R

There’s been a lot of speculation in the past few weeks over what election polls are accurate, why they matter and what, if anything, they actually tell us.

It’s my personal belief that the only poll that really matters is the one calculating actual votes on election day. BUT, polls leading up to November 4th do matter, because they are a persuasive form of PR.

My father-in-law (the king of one-liners and other comments that will make you laugh hysterically) has a saying:

“I only root for the winner.”

People feel more motivated than ever to put their civic stake in the ground and say they contributed to the course of America. Citizens are voting in record numbers and in a more passionate way than they have in decades. But ultimately, people want to vote for the guy who wins, be part of the reason why the “right guy” got into office.

And if not, well, there’s always the “Don’t-blame-me-I-voted-for-the-other-one” bumper stickers.

Polls contribute to this process as influencers. When we see a candidate pulling ahead or leading in repeated polls, it leaves an impression. It’s a “Get-on-the-bandwagon” effect. Polls affirm people who are leaning toward the leader and cause people to question about the candidate coming from behind.

In an election where people on the fence about their vote are of critical importance, so are the polls that influence those still-undecided voters.

What do you think?


October 15, 2008

Someone Please Media Train the McCain Campaign

Posted in In the news, Media, Political Punditry tagged at 8:53 pm by R

I’m watching the debates right now and one thing keeps driving me nuts. It’s the same thing that’s been driving me crazy every time I see a McCain adviser, spokesperson or family member speaking to the media on his behalf.

Evidently no one media trained John McCain and crew.

Rolling of the eyes, general angry look, interrupting, flip remarks, etc. all fall under the category of unacceptable for me. I don’t care who you are what office you’re running for, what candidate you represent — it’s. not. ok.

Politics aside, this campaign just isn’t well behaved with the media. I have seen them behave in ways I would NEVER allow my clients to behave on air, not even on the tiniest local TV station.

The top three rules:

  1. Don’t interrupt — your mom told you not to and most PR pros will reiterate it.  It’s rude, it’s unprofessional, it makes you look bad. Just DON’T.
  2. Keep your emotions off your face — this takes some mastering (which is why we do media training). When you show your anger/upset you lose your power in the conversation. Practice, practice, practice not getting flustered by hair-raising questions. Note: this trick may help with blood pressure as well.
  3. Sweet speech — Never respond with too much emotion either. Again, you lose your power when you lose your cool. And you only get three-or-so minutes, so don’t waste any time. Chances are you’ve got a stronger message than anger/upset anyhow.

I watch TV, especially in election season, with a critical eye. I expect that politicians their spokespeople will be highly trained to handle media interviews. I’ve been disappointed by the McCain campaign’s showing in this regard.


September 5, 2008

Politics + Co-Workers(or clients) + Watercooler = Debacle

Posted in In the news, Personally..., Political Punditry tagged at 10:37 pm by R

It’s the touchy season that arrives every four years, the presidential election. People are talking politics everywhere, in meetings, at the coffee shop, over dinner and, of course, in the office.

But how to handle all of those inevitable political discussions appropriately? Do you engage in the conversation at all? If you do, how much do you reveal about your political self and beliefs?

I believe those conversations are important to have. Sometimes the best political pundit, is your book keeper or IT person. Every voters’ opinions have value and insight…but only if you allow them too.

I have two simple rules for weathering the next 60-some days:

  1. Respect Everyone’s Opinion – McCain supporter*, Obama supporter*, Paul supporter*, whatever the party line or candidate, do your best to respect and be open to the opinions your fellow Americans have.
  2. Listen Before Speaking – Don’t stir the pot with some snide Donkey or Elephant joke. Make sure you know the tone of the conversation before piping up with your position. You could just end up with an earful and some awkwardness if you’re not careful.

Basically, just be respectful and know when to zip it.

Other tips for navigating the political mind field:

  • If your client is a raging Right Wing Nut, don’t diss Alaska
  • If your colleague is The Angry Left, don’t diss community organizers
  • If your boss is a McCain supporter, don’t blare Wyclef’s “Yes We Can” in your office
  • If your regular barista is an Obama supporter, don’t hum Big & Rich’s “Rasin’ McCain” or else…

Your personal political positions send a message about who you are as a person. Be strategic about the messages you send in the workplace by being professional and deliberately respectful.

Nod your head in thoughtful contemplation as a client says, “McCain is the only way this country can run.” Even if you’re thinking, “Press bashing, senile, warmonger.”

Smile considerately when your colleague says, “Obama is the great hope for our country.” Even if you want to respond with, “Marxist, no experience, media-made celebutante!”

No matter how hard the moment is, remember you can immediately go rant to your Right Wing Nut/The Angry Left friends after exiting the conversation.

Your personal (professional) PR  is far more important than expressing views in a political tantrum. Plus, you may have to live it down November 5…


*For purposes of political fairness, candidates were listed alphabetically, all future party references were assigned in order of the original candidate’s alphabetical placement in the first reference.

August 21, 2008

It’s DNC Madness. . .

Posted in Current Events, Political Punditry tagged at 8:44 pm by SD

All political affiliations aside, the Democratic National Convention is coming to Denver and it’s coming fast!

In less than five days, the Democratic National Convention will officially kick-off in Denver. Close to 70,000 delegates, elected officials, celebrities, protesters and members of the media are expected to descend on Denver. Not to mention, one of the most talked about presidential candidates ever.

You can almost feel the tension in the air as Denver residents wait to see just how Denver will withstand this Convention. 

Are we truly ready for this? Will our transportation system handle the massive influx of people? Can our police force control the protesters? Will Denver citizens still come downtown to experience the festivities? Will our economy truly see a bump as a result of hosting it?

While I can’t answer these questions yet, I can tell you a few things I’ve learned as a PR person about the DNC. Most of these things can be applied to any situation where there is a large event happening!

1. If its not DNC related, don’t pitch it. If you don’t have a breaking news item or a DNC-related story, don’t even try to call a reporter. They’re already operating with a smaller staff and they’re trying to cover a major event so resources are short and time is limited. Save your soft news pitch for September. In fact, save it for mid-September, because that is how long its going to take to recover from the madness.

2. Make yourself a resource to the media. Offer a new angle on the DNC or a new source. Reporters are under pressure to put together a DNC story so be creative while staying relevant and offer a unique news hook.

3. No matter what, your client will get involved in the DNC. Whether it’s having a party or preparing for a potential DNC-related crisis, your client will get involved. Use this opportunity to be a part of a historical event and find a way to help out with a project. You’ll be amazed at what you learn. I’ve had the opportunity to work on some pretty amazing stuff in the past couple weeks!

I’m sure I’ll learn much more as everything kicks off in the next few days. As the DNC happens in Denver, I’ll try to blog about my experiences with it. From the events I’m attending to Denver’s experience with it so stay tuned for more updates!


August 19, 2008

An Open Letter to Tom Ridge

Posted in Current Events, In the news, Political Punditry tagged at 9:16 am by R

Hi Tom. You probably don’t remember me, but we go WAAAAY back.

Remember back at the start of the Gulf War (1991-ish) you did a town hall meeting in McKean, PA’s firehouse? This was when you were still the Congressman for Erie County.

All the local media were there and lots of people asked questions because they were worried about what a war in the Middle East would mean here at home.

And then you took the time to answer my question. I was only about seven, so I was just a munchkin who had to stand on a chair to be heard and seen. My mom, Natalie Stewart-Smith (who worked with Michelle on the Erie County Historical Society and with you on a number of Veteran’s issues) tells me that I really wanted to ask you:

“What can President Bush do to stop the war?”

(Pretty good for a second-grader, right!)

At 6’4, you’re a tall guy, so you bent down in front of me while I was still standing on the chair, making us almost the same height and then you did the most amazing thing — answered my question like I was an adult. I believe that the answer was something to the effect of:

If someone went to your neighbor’s house down the street and tried to hurt them, you folks would go to help your friends, wouldn’t they?

My keen political and public relations spin detector went into high-gear as I sat back down in my mom’s lap and whispered:

He didn’t really answer my question did he mom?

Regardless of the answer, this was an important moment in my life, whether you (or I!) realized it or not. It was my first experience in PR — because let’s face it, that was an awesome photo op (big politician comes down to little girl’s level for honest foreign policy talk) — which is how I ended up where I am now. I’m sure you didn’t know it, but you pointed me on the path to my vocation.

But back to you. Your entire political career (yes, I’ve followed it closely) has been about honesty and unwavering beliefs that you consistently stand by. It’s obvious that you’re a man who is not afraid of a challenge or the hard work that comes with it. While it was an impossible task, your tenure as Secretary of Homeland Security immediately following 9/11 showcased your drive to do, not talk. It also displayed the faith your party and your peers have in you.

You’re a conundrum Tom Ridge, because I always think about what your PR strategy is when you’re with the press. But you don’t have one beyond being honest. That’s why you’re frustrating. And that’s why you’re awesome.

There’s talk of you being a candidate for Vice President alongside John McCain. You’d be a great choice. He needs someone to be his guidepost, someone firm in their beliefs and sense of self. Even if that doesn’t pan out (again — imagine how different [read:better] the world might be if it had been you instead of Cheney) I hope you keep talking, keep being honest, keep answering eight or nine year-olds’ questions in a way that makes them feel important and inspires them to be engaged in the political process. It’s the best PR strategy I’ve seen yet.


July 22, 2008

Obama v. McCain in the Media

Posted in Media, Political Punditry tagged at 1:30 pm by R

It’s not a big secret. Barack Obama is a media darling. The man has been in US Weekly in his bathing suit for crying out loud! He’s interesting, refreshing and a relatively new face on the scene. But is this good for the voters? Is this good for the election?

Media law requires that political candidates get “fair time,” which is a little fuzzy in language, but basically amounts to roughly equal coverage for each.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism noted in a recent study that of the more than 300 stories on the presumptive presidential candidates between the weeks of June 9 and July 13, Obama played an “important roll” in more than two-thirds of that coverage.

MSNBC and the Associated Press dove a little deeper and talked to some of the newsroom execs who are making the call about coverage.

“We have already been in discussions with the McCain campaign to try to afford them the same or a similar opportunity,” Banner said. “We have gone to great lengths to be fair and provide equal time to both campaigns.”

— Jon Banner, Executive Producer of World News Tonight (ABC)

I believe it. They have to at least make the effort to cover the campaigns fairly. And there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes. There’s plenty of interviews that get turned down or that don’t pan out because of travel or the campaign sends a different spokesperson, etc.

But the numbers do tell a different story (courtesy of an article on MSNBC. Read it here.):

Obama —

  • Time, 2006, Cover — second bestselling issue
  • Men’s Vogue, Cover — outsold every issue except the Men’s Vogue Debut
  • Newsweek, six covers in 2008
  • Rolling Stone

McCain —

  • Two Newsweek Covers
  • Several Shared Covers with Obama…

Dee Dee Meyers posted an eloquent blog addressing this issue as well. An important point she makes about the press and it’s coverage of Obama is this:

There are lot of “explanations” for the lopsided coverage: Obama is new and what’s new is “news.” As the first African-American to run a serious race, let alone win a major party’s nomination, Obama is running an historic campaign. Obama has created a “movement,” and Americans are simply more interested in him than in his opponents. Obama is running a smarter campaign, and he knows how to court media attention. It’s also true that intense media coverage is a double- edged sword: the attention is great when things are going well, but it can doom a candidate if and when things start to go badly. And so far, Obama has had way more good days than bad days. Each of those rationales is largely true—and somewhat less than satisfying.

Satisfying or not, the media does seem to be giving its audiences what they want. I think the Obama coverage is, at least in part, a sign of the times. The nation is interested in this already historic figure who is a new comer to the political market place, who brings a fresh attitude and charismatic delivery to every appearance.

Obama should be ware not to go the way of “Beniffer” and be over exposed to the point of disinterest and dislike. He is a little like a celebrity having embraced some of the news outlets like gossip magazines and satirical news shows. And while this has amplified his public figure, it’s a fine line.

John McCain may have big news this week with the potential announcement of a VP. That kind of news will undoubtedly tilt the scales of coverage.

Whatever the coverage is, it is SO critical that we read and watch and comment and converse about all of it. For 18-30-ish voters, this is an important election. Not just because it’s an opportunity to affect change, but because it’s a chance to tell everyone who called our generation apathetic voters to shove it.

Long story longer, media is power. That’s why I’ve got a job. And with respect to this election year the media’s power is a factor. Watch closely, it’s your civic duty.


June 18, 2008

Heaven. Heaven. Heaven…Russert By a Landslide

Posted in Political Punditry tagged , at 8:29 am by R

Today’s post title comes from a white board laid outside the Washington D.C. Bureau of NBC News in honor and rememberance of a remarkable newsman and stellar human being, Mr. Tim Russert.

If you’ll recall, this is actually a play on one of the most iconic statements made in politics during the 2000 election. When asked what Tim Russert thought the close race between George W. Bush and Al Gore came down to on that election night, he wrote this:




Bush by a landslide.

Just as Tim Russert was spot on about the 2000 election, so was the witty individual who laid that white board down on the side walk. It brought hot tears to my eyes and a little smile to my face too.

I have been a long time admirer of Tim Russert. He was the reason I wanted to be in broadcast journalism. He was the reason I was fascinated with politics. When he took the helm at Meet The Press, my parents and I watched every Sunday. His purpose was to inform the viewers. I loved that about him!

That principle was never more evident that during the 2008 primaries. You had to love his enthusiasim! The excitement Tim Russert had for this round of politics was palpable through any TV set. He could feel that we were all participating in history.

Upon news of Tim’s passing last Friday, I cried. Publicly. At a Jewish deli around the corner from my office. (Which has a great bagle and lox, by the way.) Tim Russert was an inspiration to me. I never ended up in broadcast journalism, but I’m a political junkie and a great admirer of the news.

The thing that makes me sure that the title to this post is the truth is the fact that, in addition to being a fantastic reporter, Tim Russert was a phenomenal human being. And his Jesuit background only adds to his greatness in my own very humble opinion.

All I know is this: It’s gonna be one heck of an election if God feels like He needs Tim Russert by His side to  sort this one out.

Here’s to you Mr. Russert.