Knowing What to Say: A Political Guide to Public Relations [National Conference Recap]

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Session: Knowing What to Say: A Political Guide to Public Relations

Presenters: Anne Hathaway, president, Hathaway Strategies; Jane Jankowski, communications director, Hathaway Strategies

Recap: Political public relations is a dynamic section of our industry. A winning campaign requires risks in strategy and a commitment to its foundation — the key issues and the candidate’s reason for running. Focused risk can change the outcome of an election. In the 2012 presidential election, the Obama campaign focused a great deal on the power of social media while the Romney campaign continued with more traditional media efforts. By engaging with the younger generation and committing to a new platform, Obama won the election. Social media allows for a controlled message that can be targeted and tracked. This uncharted media move is now an inescapable trend in politics, and was fundamental to the 2016 presidential election.

Clinton and Trump were not typical presidential candidates. According to Anne Hathaway, president of Hathaway Strategies, both candidates had high unfavorable ratings when compared to previous presidential candidates. This defies the typical approaches in campaign strategy. Surrogates became a reliable strategy for both parties to remove direct risk to candidates. Michelle Obama advocating for Hillary Clinton and Mike Pence on behalf of Donald Trump allowed for a controlled message to the media.


  1. “Everything we do in politics, we do at a sixth-grade level,” said Hathaway. Simplify the message for your audience. Jargon creates confusion, not credibility.
  1. Pay attention to the media. Create mutually beneficial relationships with reporters. Listen to all news outlets equally to ensure you hear the entire story.  
  1. “It’s about having big and bold ideas and actually making them happen,” said Jane Jankowski, communications director at Hathaway Strategies. Know how to be a leader and be actionable.
  1.  Write often, write well.
  1. “Saying the words ‘no comment’ is still saying something,” said Hathaway. Silence is an answer, too. Use it wisely.

Liv Moore is a senior at the University of Nevada, Reno. She currently serves as director of marketing for the university’s student government and interns with the technology startup Capstak. Liv enjoys hiking near Lake Tahoe, discovering new restaurants and reading. Follow Liv on Twitter or connect on Linkedin.

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