(With Lessons Learned From Sanders That PR People Should Heed)
Arthur Solomon, Public Relations Consultant
Sen. Bernie Sanders, on April 13, officially endorsed Joe Biden saying “we’ve got to make Trump a one-term president.”
“I will do all that I can to see that that happens, Joe,” Sanders promised.
The quick endorsement came as a surprise, given the fact that during his concession speech last week, Sanders didn’t speak enthusiastically about Biden and sounded more like the candidate he was before suspending his campaign.
Sen. Sanders isn’t running for president. The primary season is not yet over. But already the results are clear: Regardless of who is elected president the winner is Bernie Sanders, the senator from
Here’s why I say Sen. Sanders is the winner: Two of the issues that Sen. Sanders has campaigned on for years – health and economic matters – will be the most important issues during the presidential campaign, because of the plague afflicting the
Health – The coronavirus epidemic will change Americans views on health forever. Good and affordable coverage for everyone will be a major campaign issue in every future election; in fact, in this November’s election it will be the major subject. Eventually, Medicare for All, one of Sen. Sanders most important wants, will become a reality.
Economics — There are many issues that Sen. Sanders campaigned on that will be issues in the November election and in every future one. But the most pressing current one is having the government provide money to out-of-work citizens during the coronavirus epidemic. And a Republican led government is doing so. (Just as there are no atheists in fox holes, there are few GOP politicians crying “anti-socialist” during a plague, it appears.) Once the plague abates, the normal help for the unemployed, state’s unemployment payments, will have to change. Many states have extended their unemployment benefits during this crises. But will citizens of states like
There are many other Sanders’ issues that because of the economic turndown caused by the coronavirus will now become campaign issues in this November and future elections. A few: Income inequality, paid leave, college cost and student debt, and drug costs, to name a few. And while another of the senator’s important issues, climate change, took a back seat to the health and economic issues caused by the coronavirus, it certainly will be revived during the presidential campaign.
The victory of Sen. Sanders’ ideas have also caused the Republicans legislators, or if not them, many GOP voters, to change their attitude about the role of government.
Now that so many Americans and businesses are depending on the federal government for help, no longer will the GOP be able to convince most Americans that big government is bad government.
And no longer will President Trump be able to get people to believe his promise that he has a perfect, beautiful health plan to replace Obamacare. Only GOP legislators who want to be defeated will campaign on the repeal of Obamacare this November and in future elections.
Trump will continue to call Democrats socialists. But people in need of help, Democrats, Republicans, independents, American firsters or internationalists, won’t care.
Pundits will continue to say that Sen. Sanders’ campaign has moved Joe Biden to the left. While true, that’s only half of the story. Because of the popularity of many of Sen. Sanders’ positions, many GOP elected officials have also moved to the left, along with many conservatives who before coronavirus believed that socialistic ideas, like helping businesses and tax loop holes should only benefit big business and the wealthiest of Americans.
During my long career in the PR business, I’ve never believed, that a successful short-term PR campaign had a long-term positive affect for the client. Neither do many businesses. That’s why PR budgets are a fraction of advertising expenditures and why advertising campaigns can often continue for years, unlike PR campaigns hat have a short shelve life.
Unlike many short-term PR programs that attempt to capture the moment, over the years Sen. Sanders’ campaigns have resembled an advertising one. He has advocated essentially the same ideas during his two terms in the Senate and before that in the House, from 1991, until he was elected a Senator. in 2007.
Many of Sen. Sanders’ positions, once considered socialistic, have now become part of the American landscape. This is not a new occurrence when someone introduces progressive legislation. FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Medicare were viciously attacked by most Republicans as socialistic.
During part of my PR career at Burson-Marsteller, I was asked to take the leadership position in a client’s national campaign that always received negative publicity. I changed the messaging. By using the same themes for the eight years that I managed the account, much like an advertising campaign repeats the same messaging, the negative aspects of the client’s campaign were overcome and replaced by major media favorable publicity. (I tweaked the program each year to keep it fresh for the media, but the messaging didn’t vary. The campaign ended when the client decided to go in a different direction because of the increase in rights fees. I also went in another direction, and was assigned to manage or play key roles in other flagship national and international accounts, that included being a media consultant to government leaders while at B-M.)
In many ways, using the same messaging for eight years for the same client is similar to how Sen. Sanders’ has been promoting his ideas over the years.
In his concession speech, Sen. Sanders said, “Few would deny that over the course of the past five years our movement has won the ideological struggle. In so-called red states and blue states and purple states, a majority of the American people now understand that we must raise the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour, that we must guarantee health care as a right to all of our people, that we must transform our energy system away from fossil fuel, and that higher education must be available to all, regardless of income. It was not long ago that people considered these ideas radical and fringe. Today they are mainstream ideas, and many of them are already being implemented in cities and states across the country. That is what we have accomplished together.”
Sen. Sanders’ dream of becoming President Sanders will not be achieved. However, history will remember him as the most influential none president of the
What Sen. Sanders has campaigned for has been or is in the process of becoming accepted American policy. That’s why regardless of who is elected president in November, the real winner is Bernie Sanders.
There are important take-a-ways from Sen. Sanders’ long-term technique that PR people should remember. Thinking long-term can help a client.
There’s also an important lesson that PR people should remember from President Trump’s short-term technique. It might work once, (as it did in 2016) but in the long-term it doesn’t.
But, perhaps, the most important lesson is to be flexible in your public relations approaches, because as in all aspects of life, things are fluid. Much of what Sen. Sanders was championing was thought to be unattainable several years ago. They are now an accepted part of American life.
However, in our business, especially in the PR crisis sector, tenets that date back before many of you were born are still implemented, even though history shows they don’t work.
It’s important for young PR people to think for themselves and to change PR approaches to fit the situations, instead of relying on past models. Because, as I’ve said for years, “There is no one size fits all solution to a PR crisis or to any PR initiative.”
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 is on the