I felt that Chapel Hill Town Councilman Lee Storrow’s visit to class week related closely to many of the concepts we’ve discussed in class this semester, particularly where messaging and the ground game are concerned. His campaign formula combined elements from Alexander and Neilsen, emphasizing the importance of campaign contributions, media relationships and media coverage. His visit served as both a practical and insightful look into political campaigning, at least on the local level, and put into practice many of the theories we have talked about.
Lee’s campaign formula begins with fundraising. A candidate must be prepared to ask for donations, and if he or she is unable to, then chances are, they won’t be successful. Campaign funds are useful for the ground game in particular — it takes funds and manpower to contact voters who vote consistently, whether in-person, over the phone or via mail. In Chapel Hill, there are only about 4,000 of 55,000 that actually vote in local elections, and Storrow said it’s particularly important to target your efforts to them, rather than wasting time on college kids, who don’t vote. Ultimately, he stressed the importance of coming across as a genuine candidate — he said he considered hand-addressing his postcards as a symbol of committment — because those that are able to tap into something genuine are able to get the voters on their side.
His discussion of genuineness and authenticity related closely to what we discussed in lecture this week, with regards to the Soberaj piece. People like authenticity, or at least, perceived authenticity, and will vote for a candidate who they believe is genuinely invested in their interests. In Storrow’s case, I believe he truly did care about the office he ran for — he didn’t run for town councilman at a 22-year-old to pad his resume, he wanted to create change in local government.
I also thought his discussion about campaign communications was particularly interesting. He acknowledged that, during the course of a campaign, there are times when you don’t have control of the message. While this is not something we had addressed directly in-class, as a PR major, this is a concept I have become very familiar with. PR practitioners can release all the information they want — news releases, social media campaigns, advertisements, public appearances, postcards — but it’s possible to lose control of your message. Once it’s released, no one is to stop a blogger from twisting your words into something negative, as in Storrow’s case. Where Storrow differed from my PR classes was the post-crisis management: where PR emphasizes the importance of responding directly to negativity, Storrow told us that a candidate must march forward. I suppose this is where PR differs slightly from campaigns — where political affiliations are concerned, many people are blindly loyal to their personal beliefs, regardless of whether or not they are correct. For a candidate to get engaged in a petty argument about why he or she is better than such-and-such a blogger posted online does not inspire confidence in voters — it would be better to get before the media and deliver a carefully crafted messages indirectly addressing concerns raised by said blogger.
Ultimately, he said to focus on the messages and not get sidetracked by critical naysayers — keep emphasizing the good, and the bad will fade into the background. While I personally disagree with this statement — I tend to take a more cynical view of media portrayals, that one bad message can ruin a political career — I do recognize why his approach was successful. Not every bad message is a crisis, and rather than getting dragged into a conversation you don’t have control over, you’re better off to appear dignified and unshaken. It’s a fine line between pettiness and attentiveness, and I feel that Storrow was able to walk it well.