2020 has been a weird year jam-packed with unique challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic, California wildfires, killer bees...the list goes on. Add the U.S. presidential election to the list, with its unprecedented voter turnout, interest and political polarization. Needless to say, the media’s job won’t get any easier in November—and potentially well beyond.
So, how can businesses muddle through this year’s presidential election news cycle? I sat down (virtually over Zoom) with Merritt Group’s Senior Vice President of Government Matt Donovan to find out.
Q: Why is this election news cycle different from past elections?
A: Attention and interest are on steroids during this election news cycle because of how politically charged and divided everyone is. Elections are always news black holes, but this one will suck the air out of the room.
I think the other way this election is different is how people are voting because of the pandemic — early voting, mail-in and absentee. This might impact how votes are counted and there has also been talk of legal challenges that could dramatically extend post-election coverage. Instead of a traditional three-day news blitz we could be looking at a month of nonstop coverage. Google Trends indicates [below] that it has already been an exhausting season and some say it could drag on for weeks past November 3.
Q: What does this mean for my announcement pipeline?
A: Companies should look at what’s on deck and hold non-election related news. We’ve been advising clients that making major announcements should hold for at least a week and a half after the election and monitor as things progress. Any pitch or announcement during this time should be relevant to the big picture and the implications of the election. Now is not the time to tell that customer story you’ve been carefully cultivating all year and you only have one shot at landing with top-tier press.
Q: What should I avoid when it comes to marketing/PR during this time?
A: Like I said, this election is a black hole from an attention perspective, so it’s going to be extremely difficult to get on the radar of both customers or reporters. In addition to the challenge of simply breaking through, companies need to avoid coming off as tone deaf. This is obviously a major event with enormous societal implications so maybe not the time to pitch version 3.4 of your products.
It also means avoiding being opportunistic with your messaging. Similar to the COVID-19 challenge, if you’re going to speak up, and use the election as a platform for thought leadership, be an educational voice in the market without pivoting to a sales posture or marketing language.
Outside of media, it’s a great time to build out your content pipeline or refresh your messaging so that you’re ready to go when the time is right. As we’ve seen from the data, government audiences are particularly hungry for educational content that helps them do their jobs better and navigate a dynamic policy environment.
Q: Can I use this news cycle to my advantage?
A: Only if you have something useful and meaningful to say. For example, reporters are hungry for pre-election perspectives on election cybersecurity. We work with a number of companies that have participated in media opportunities to share really valuable guidance on risks and variables that government leaders need to think about as they secure the election from both domestic and foreign threats. This isn’t ambulance chasing, because it's a perspective that’s sorely needed as part of the national conversation.
Post-election, there’s also an opportunity to position around transition activities. Even if the current administration wins another term, there will be a whole new set of goals and strategies for policymakers and agencies to align with. Organizations with unique expertise might want to weigh in on how the government should think about executing across areas like workforce and technology. It’s less about if the goals are good or bad and more about how the government and society can move forward depending on the outcome of the election.
Regardless of the outcome, it’s going to be a dynamic news environment that brands have to carefully navigate. Basically, if you don’t have anything meaningful to say, don’t say anything at all, at least until the dust settles.
There is less than one week left until Election Day. Make sure you get out and vote!
Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@tiffanytertipes