Guest blogger Ryan Cross is a Republican political consultant and avid duck hunter. He owns his own political communications and public relations firm, Cross Strategies, bases out of Baton Rouge, La. He is from the small town of Baker, La. and grew up in the halls of the Louisiana state capitol. He graduated from the Manship School of Mass Communication in 2014 with a concentration in public relations. He is engaged to the love of his life and fellow Tiger, Addie Dean.
Building an effective and strong brand can make or break a company’s bottom line or the outcome on election night. Political campaigns, like public relations campaigns, are fast-paced and leave no room for error. One wrong tweet, one bad statement or one gaffe from the stump can ruin a politician’s career forever. It’s the job of political communications and public relations professionals to draw the plays that move the ball down the field and convert on fourth down when the pressures on.
I recall sitting in a conference room during a statewide campaign in Louisiana and looking at a large piece of brown paper taped to the wall where the words, “It’s name ID, stupid!” were written. A member of our team had put it there as we all sat around the table and discussed our next move. Our client was in a distant third place in our internal polling; his name ID was just above 20 percent and it was getting difficult to raise money. With 5 months until Election Day, we would be finished if we didn’t gain momentum soon.
The viability of our entire campaign rested on the decisions made in the conference room that afternoon. Next time you’re in the huddle and looking to launch your brand and establish an identity, remember these four simple steps to guide your decision making process:
1) Research: Know Your Stuff
Before you can craft strategies, run ads or measure results, you have to do your research. An expensive campaign with the wrong message will get you nowhere (i.e. Jeb Bush’s presidential bid). You must use research to identify your message and how to convey it, establish a baseline to track progress from and target your audience(s). Our campaign used polling to identify issues important to voters, the strengths of our candidate’s image and the voters we were most likely to convert to supporters.
2) Define Success: What Does Winning Look Like?
After you’ve conducted research, the next thing your team must do is clearly articulate what winning looks like. What’s your goal and how will you measure it? Our goal was to improve our candidate’s ballot position to second place and show strong momentum coming out of the summer months. We would measure our progress through another internal poll and confirm it through independent polls that would be run over the summer as well. Setting short-term goals is very important. Of course, our ultimate goal was victory on election night, but it was imperative that we set short-term goals that allowed us to move the ball down the field.
3) Develop Your Strategy: Drawing Up The Play
This is the most exciting part. You huddle up with your strategists, look at the tools you have available and set out to move the needle. You must ask yourself what strategies and tactics available to you will most effectively help you reach your goal. Our team decided to launch our first statewide TV buy, couple that with a strong presence online through pre-roll ads and have an aggressive traveling schedule doing events in areas where we were less-known.
4) Execution: Don’t Look Back
The gravity of the decisions public relations professionals make every day, it’s crucial that once the research is done, the goals have been set and the strategies have been laid out, that you don’t look back. You can’t second-guess yourself or your team. If you do, you’ll waste valuable time and risk getting caught in a crippling cycle of insecurity, doubt and fear. Following that meeting in the conference room, we all weren’t 100 percent sure our plan would work. It was out of our control and in the hands of voters. We were confident we made the right choice, but we would have to wait to see the results. If we were wrong, the race was over.
Thankfully, a little over a month later, an independent poll was released showing our candidate in a strong second place with a significant boost to his name ID and strong momentum. Our internal numbers confirmed our success. We had effectively built a brand, communicated a message and begun the process of winning the hearts and minds of Louisiana voters. Using these four keys, you can be well on your way to building strong brands for your clients and achieving their goals.