August 31, 2012
Every four years, athletes and fans from their home countries focus attention, training and resources on the Olympic Games. And as the Olympics move nearer to the opening ceremonies, the art and science of athletic performance advance.
Think of the U.S. presidential election as the Olympics for communicators. Every four years, the pressure on political parties mounts as they work feverishly to exploit every possible method of delivering votes — particularly from battleground states. It is a perfect alignment of political strategy, technology and consumer behavior. As the election gets closer, the art and science of persuasive communications leap forward. The PR community must jump with it or we risk getting left behind.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized the power of radio and used it to connect with Americans in a personal way through his fireside chats. Kennedy’s debate triumph over Vice President Richard Nixon is credited with ushering in the television era. And in 2008, the Obama campaign embraced social tools to connect, engage and mobilize hyper-connected mostly younger voters, which advanced the work of the Howard Dean campaign four years earlier.
These technologies already existed and were widespread, but the presidential campaigns helped propel them into the mainstream.
Let’s take a look at the changes in communications technologies since the last presidential campaign in 2008. What is happening behind the scenes right now that will have an impact on PR strategies in the future?
Both political campaigns have adapted to these changes. Both are employing QR codes and mobile apps, each party has been gathering information about supporters —overtly through surveys and conversations, and covertly through online tracking. And they are using sophisticated software designed to make it possible to use all available data.
For the first time, both parties are combining publicly available data from voter rolls with all the online intelligence to create a picture of what makes their supporters and 2012’s other voters tick.
And the fact that scientists are now heavily involved in political strategy is the big leap of the 2012 campaign. If the so-called Holy Grail of the 2008 presidential campaign was social media, then the Holy Grail of 2012 is microtargeting.
It is not about the number of Facebook Likes, video views or retweets that a campaign can attract. It is about how precisely a campaign can mold a message that will engage a particular voter and then deliver that narrowly targeted message with pinpoint accuracy to compel the voter to act.
For instance, Politico noted this past June 9 that the Obama campaign is constantly experimenting and testing to expand the donor base and has found that $3 is a magic number.
“Asking supporters for that paltry donation to win a chance to attend a fundraiser with the president and George Clooney or Sarah Jessica Parker, has generated tens of thousands of responses,” Lois Romano reported.
But collecting money isn’t the goal of this exchange — it is simply a rationale for collecting data from the donor. The data is worth much more to the campaign than the $3 donation.
What does the information election mean for public relations?
Just as the use of radio, television and social media by presidential campaigns helped propel those tools into the mainstream, we expect widespread application of methods of collecting and analyzing Big Data in the coming years. Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and many other social sites already customize your online experience based on their instant analysis of your interests and behaviors. These capabilities will continue to advance — as will consumer expectations.
The art and science of analytics is leaping ahead as you read this — making it possible to target communications and strengthen personal bonds in ways that we are just beginning to imagine. The real question is how will you use these new capabilities to achieve your PR objectives?