US Elections: Make Gentle the Life of this World?
By Erik Martens, Director – Public Affairs, MSL Breda in The Netherlands
With the campaign for the US presidency having entered its last and decisive phase, it’s still in the balance who will prevail on November 6. Both candidates are pulling out all the stops in order to gain every single vote out there. Especially in the swing states Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, the heat is on. These 8 states deliver 95 out of the 270 required electors. They will decide who will be the next US President. But is communication of personal commitment and values coming through to them?
Well Organized Campaigns, Super-sized Ad Budgets
During this 2012 campaign, billions and billions of US dollars are being spent on campaigning. A recent visit to the International Conference on Political Communication in Berlin (co-sponsored by MSLGROUP in Germany) reaffirmed my understanding that any US campaign actually has nothing to do with ‘spontaneous’ grassroots movements, and that it can only be compared to a military operation. Thousands and thousands of volunteers at either site working hard – all are part of this gigantic machinery. Every volunteer plays his or her role. In that sense, you must bow in admiration to the organizational skills of all the parties.
The targeted bombarding of ads is another aspect that interests us. During this 2012 campaign, approximately 800,000 ads are being aired, representing budgets that make you dizzy, especially when you’re from Europe.
I have to admit, for a communications and public affairs professional, the US elections truly are a candy store.
Every sound bite, every horizon sketched, every joke is well thought-through and tested multiple times. Feelings, opinions and fears of voters are under constant monitoring. Presidential reactions perfectly fit in. But words don’t say it all, in the end. It’s the body language of the candidate, his hairstyle, the wrinkles under his eyes, the tie around his neck, that one stupid gesture (glaring at papers). It can cost you the White House. For the rest of their political careers, the lessons from the debates will be remembered.
But political communications is about conveying empathy, integrity, compassion and other acclaimed values of “Ethos, logos, pathos”, as Aristotle put it, around 2,500 years ago.
I’m afraid all political communications are subordinate to political marketing, in the US and abroad. Get your (wo) man elected, no matter how you do it – is the mission. That the way it is in the US, that’s the way it is across the entire free World.
The other day I watched the highly acclaimed HBO documentary ‘Ethel’, the wife of the late US senator Robert F. Kennedy. That moving documentary, made by her daughter Rory (who was born after her father was shot), showed once again that in the end effective political campaigns are exclusively about conveying values and a personal commitment ‘to make gentle the life of this world’ (and here I quote Robert Kennedy). With the insights from the Berlin Conference and the 3 presidential debates in mind, I found that rather sobering, yet at the same time inspiring.
In a week from now, registered US citizens will re-elect their 44th or elect their 45th president. Wonder if both candidates know their classics….
Erik has broad experience with seventeen years in strategic communications – including multiple years in leadership positions. He is a specialist in public affairs and strategic and corporate communication, providing both strategic advice and ‘hands-on’ tactical support across a broad range of corporate reputation, stakeholder engagement, issues and media management, and crisis communications.