It’s the radio spot you hear on the drive to work. It’s the TV commercial during the news break. It’s the ad that comes across your social media feed. It’s all over online and print news headlines. Because 2020 is a presidential election year, you can expect to be bombarded with political messages.
This comes as no surprise to folks in media relations. Big political years overtake the media, both paid and earned. Because this year’s election is particularly high intensity due to a polarized political climate, you might be surprised by just how much coverage parties and candidates receive.
Political ad spending has grown an average of 27% per year since 2012, according to the 2020 Political Spending Projections report. What’s more, we can expect to see 8 million broadcast airings of political ads in 2020, with 2.5 million more ads than 2018. Organic news coverage often mimics the patterns of paid advertising, with focused reporting occurring throughout the year, but especially in the first quarter due to the primaries as well as a steady build starting mid-summer to a peak in October before Election Day in November.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing! When it comes to the politicians whose decisions will shape our lives, we certainly want to know more about them so we can be active and informed voters. However, for people in public relations trying to garner coverage for their clients, the current media landscape can feel like an impossibility.
Fortunately, there are a few strategies that can help you get the coverage you want in front of your target demographics. By keeping these in mind, you can turn around any stalled media efforts.
#1: Don’t be political if your product isn’t
Some brands are known for taking a political stance, using curated strategies that thoughtfully connect their product to key messages that resonate with their audience. Patagonia comes to mind here, a brand that has taken an unapologetic stance prioritizing the protection of natural resources. While this brand activism strategy makes sense for this company — and in return they’ve enjoyed great success — most companies should think twice before jumping the great political divide.
An example of Patagonia’s political advocacy from a brand’s perspective. [Source]
A good rule of thumb is if your product isn’t political in any way, don’t try to go for a political angle. Why? It can cause a massive backlash, not to mention look like a desperate marketing ploy. You might have the most amazing product in your category, and truly believe its value proposition, but if you tie it to politics you risk losing interest from people that don’t agree with you. Best case is people ignore you. Worst case, they’ll boycott your products and convince their friends to do so as well.
#2: Distribute strategically and use location targeting
Breaking through the political noise can be difficult without a targeted plan. Even if you do secure placements for your client, what if they’re not reaching the right people? Strategic distribution, including geotargeting and audience segmentation, can help you stand out when others simply fade into the political news abyss.
First, consider who you are trying to target with your efforts. During high points in political cycles, this is particularly important. You want your message in front of the eyes that matter. Determine who your ideal readers are and think creatively about how you want to reach them. When looking at distribution tactics, think about how you can target by categorization such as age, gender and interest.
Once you determine who you want to reach, it’s then important to figure out where you want to reach them. Are there certain regions you want to target? Maybe certain states or cities? Use strategies that provide opportunities to focus on your designated market areas (DMAs). Plan earned media outreach and media buying efforts at these key locations.
Brandpoint’s Premium Mat Release is an example of a tactic that allows for this type of hyper-targeting of media. You have options to target by geography, interest and even device. This high-level audience targeting can also be enhanced with multimedia presentation and social media amplification. It’s important to have tools like these to break through the political barrage to ensure your client’s campaigns are successful.
#3: Consider altering the timeline of your campaign
The saying “timing is everything” applies to many things in life. When the goal is breaking through political news to get coverage for clients, it’s essential. You should consider altering the timeline of your campaign to take advantage of lulls in the political cycle in hopes of garnering better coverage and getting more placements and engagements.
For example, the days surrounding the first presidential debate should be avoided just like other key days in the election timeline. That being said, patterns of media coverage and media buys historically show a lull in early summer, when they are recovering from the primaries but have yet to gear up for Election Day. Want coverage in June? You should start thinking about it now and pursue strategies that support your timeline.
Keep in mind, timing is as much an art as it is science, with its fair share of luck thrown in. You can never predict the breaking news that could pull the attention of Americans at any time. If a politician does something outlandish, you can expect all media to cover it with a fury. Expect the unexpected, and when these events impact news coverage, take a moment to assess, refocus and update your strategic outreach so you can position your campaigns for success.
#4: Use SEO to your advantage
Search engine optimization (SEO) can help your content rank better so it’s seen by the people who are searching relevant terms. Google reports that 71% of B2B buyers begin their customer journey with an unbranded search, so make sure when creating content that you’re keeping in mind SEO strategies to help you rank with the search engine results pages (SERPs).
When you’re hitting a wall on your media relations efforts, this can be a good time to focus on creating quality content that enhances the user experience. This could be refining your website, amping up blog posts, creating clustered content focused on specific subjects that rank high in search, exploring gated content such as eBooks, and much more. For copy creation strategies that work, read “What is Content Optimization? 5 Tips on Writing for SEO.”
Whether it’s owned or earned media, securing backlinks on high-quality sites is important, as these are seen as a positive endorsement. The more backlinks you earn, the more positive signals are sent to Google, and you could see your ranking rise for certain topics and search terms. Ideally you’ll earn links naturally due to the amazing content you’re publishing, but if you want to be proactive, reach out to relevant businesses with a request to include a backlink to your content on their website (and offer to do the same for them). Additionally, post links to your content in your social media posts.
Presidential election years are notoriously difficult for media relations professionals. However, securing placements and getting messages in front of key audiences is not impossible. Those who adopt a strategic mindset with specific methods will build positive momentum and enjoy success. And that’s a win for you and your client!