(It’s Not The Number of Media Hits That Are Important: It’s If They Deliver A Quality Message That People Buy)
One thing all but the most fanatic Democrats must admit: The recent Supreme Court rulings overturning Roe v. Wade and the New York State gun control law prove that the Democrats PR strategy doesn’t work. Like most agency publicity hits, it’s not the number of placements that matter: It’s the quality of the placements, and while both agency and Democratic media campaigns might pile up enough hits to fill a wing of the Library of Congress they do nothing to change people’s minds.
The Republicans, on the other hand, have conducted a much more sophisticated campaign over the last several decades. While supporters of Democrats marched and demonstrated their support for everything from saving the inch worm to exporting American style democracy to parts of the world that don’t want it, dominating the media, Republicans concentrated on several issues that mattered to their base – religion, abortion and guns.
For years, it was obvious that the micro targets of the GOP were accomplishing its goals and the macro aims of the Democrats were failing. Still the Democratic strategists wouldn’t change their tactics. Like many people in our business, they counted the number of publicity hits, figuring the more hits they got, the more people would support their messages. But they forgot the most important aspect of a successful PR campaign –turning publicity hits into sales.
Democrats are making a big deal over the watered down gun control legislation passed by Congress, even though it fell far short of anything substantive. That’s the sign of a loser: Give us anything to hang our hats on.
Now that the Republicans have secured their two major goals, it’s a new ballgame. And the Democrats will continue to lose unless they change their tactics (which they should have done year’s ago) starting today.
Pundits for months have been saying that the Democrats have no chance to win control of the House and are hanging on by their finger nails when it comes to retaining control of the Senate. But history shows that the pundits are wrong more often than the advice given to you by your financial advisor. Neither the pundits nor the financials advisors have the answers. Want recent proof: Check what the political pundits said before the twice-impeached former president of the U.S. defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Or what your financial advisor said to you before the stock market crashed in 2022.
Despite what the political pundits, who never admit their mistakes on cable TV say, the Democrats do have a chance to retain control of both houses of Congress. But they must take a lesson from the Republicans and stop playing softball by campaigning on legislation that only appeals to special self-interest groups. They must stop campaigning on issues that affect only a small portion of citizens, like student loans or issues that most people put on the back burner while trying to pay their monthly bills, like the green new deal. They must begin campaigning on issues that reach the broad sector of Americans, not just the college educated or editorial writers. In order to do this they must go into the rural communities, long lost by Democrats because of neglect, and find the issues that most affect those people.
Instead of campaigning on micro issues that appeal to specific groups the Democrats must campaign on broad strokes matters. The recent Supreme Court decisions on abortion and gun control have provided the ammunition for the Democrats, as has the January 6 Select Committee hearings which prove there was an attempted coup that was supported by many Republican lawmakers and the former twice-impeached president.
Democrats must keep pushing for more comprehensive gun control, because certainly the measures passed by Congress will not prevent additional mass killings. They must keep pushing for Medicare for all and lower prescription drugs prices, and, of course, emphasize the abortion controversy and the threat to democracy that still is with us. They must emphasize that Republicans are the party that turned a blind eye to the January 6 insurrection and that tried to overthrow the presidential election. And they must convince people that despite the few extremists in their ranks they are the party of moderation and democracy, unlike the Republicans that foster radical positions.
They should push for trade school growth, so young people can learn a trade and not graduate from college only to learn that the jobs available are flipping hamburgers. They must stop blaming big business for all the economic problems and establish a partnership that will work for the businesses, their workers and the general public. They must denounce the handful of defund the police legislators in their party. They must also denounce the rioters who destroy property when they don’t agree with a happening. They must give the police the benefit of the doubt in controversial matters.
Also necessary is for the Democrats to have spokespeople on TV who look and talk like most Americans, especially rural Americans. Doing this would certainly infuriate Afro-American groups, the Democratic Party’s most loyal supporters, thus far. But recent elections show that the number of Afro-Americans and Hispanics who vote Democratic is declining. In order to have a sustainable future the Democratic Party must change with the times, which also means dumping their PR approach, which results in their winning the media battles but losing the issue wars.
Democrats must promote candidates who don’t live on the coasts like Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, Tom Vilsack of Iowa, Marcia Fudge of Ohio, Laura Kelly of Kansas, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Steve Sisolak of Nevada, Jared Polis of Colorado, John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper of Colorado, John Tester of Montana and Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Tina Smith of Minnesota (to name a few). The Democratic leadership in D.C. that has controlled the party for so many years dominates the TV interviews. They must share the media spotlight and must give way to a new generation with new thoughts and approaches. They should follow the blueprints of the Select Committee January 6 hearings, which gives each member the opportunity to share the media spotlight.
Democrats should take a lesson from Republican. For decades, while Democrats were making headlines with protests and garnering the great majority of TV time, Republicans were quietly winning control of school boards and concentrating on local political matters to elect majorities in state governments while winning their share of presidential and Congressional elections.
Democrats won the battle for media coverage but neglected the rural voters that once supported them. The Democrats must appeal to voters, not on media hits if they want to win. Democrats must start nominating candidates from southern and rural states for national office, instead of only choosing candidate from the coasts.
In many ways, the recent Democratic campaign reminds me of what so often is counted as a success by people in our business.
Too many PR practitioners are satisfied with 500-word stories that don’t contain any client message points. As far as I’m concerned, a lengthy article that only identifies Mr. or Ms. XYZ “as a spokesperson for the ABC company,” is the same as a gun that fires blanks. It doesn’t do the client any good; neither have recent Democratic campaign messages. Instead of counting press appearances, both agency PR people and the Democrats should evaluate why the public doesn’t respond to their messages and concentrate on ways to make them more relevant.
Ever since the Supreme Court overturned Roe, pro women’s rights advocates have been staging daily protest rallies. By now they should know that the rallies are as worthless as airing their outrage during TV interviews, and that what really matters is voting, as the Republicans always do. In a few months we’ll see if the stay-at-home Democratic Election Day voters have learned a lesson. Until then, instead of providing good footage for TV programs, the women’s choice advocates should spend the time ringing doorbells, urging people to vote in the mid-terms and 2024 presidential election.
There’s a famous adage attributed to Albert Einstein: “Doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result is a sign of insanity.” That saying could sum up the lame Democratic campaigns over the past few decades.
About the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He has been a key player on Olympic marketing programs and also has worked at high-level positions directly for Olympic organizations. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com