It can be daunting to navigate a sprawling media landscape, where news gets made as quickly as it’s tweeted. As the news cycle gets faster every year, and our attention spans get shorter, it’s important to get in front of news to build a movement.
Arianna Jones knows this well. Before joining Revolution Messaging in July, Arianna served as the Deputy Communications Director on Bernie 2016. She saw firsthand the shift from traditional public relations to rapid response messaging strategy in a 140-character world. Driven by the desire to continue the fight for progress, Arianna jumped into the agency world and created Revolution Messaging’s Public Relations team.
Beyond like-mindedness and shared values, Arianna saw Revolution as a way to make public relations accessible for organizations and candidates who normally considered a PR consultant cost-prohibitive.
“Any group who wants to fight for progressive causes should be able to,” she says. “It’s our goal as progressives to elevate the voices that don’t normally get heard. That means giving people a leg up even if they don’t have a corporate budget.”
In all the online clutter, the right communications strategy gives you access to traditional news sources that carry objectivity, recognition and authority. With the ability to control the broader message, a campaign is able to reinforce that message in emails, ads, text messages and tweets.
A good PR consultant doesn’t just help disseminate a message, they help craft it. Arianna believes that no matter how you present a message, the first step needs to be articulating the issues.
“Campaigns tend to start with a kernel of the broad messaging. What we want to do is help them refine that kernel and grow it into message that applies on a larger scale. You have to be able to talk to a room full of policy experts, then go out and translate the same message to the guy eating peanuts next to you at the bar.”
Prior to entering politics, Arianna was a booking and segment producer on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show,” an experience that gave her an understanding of what journalists are looking for, but also a unique sense of how to engage an audience.
“There are two reasons people don’t get involved,” she explains, “One is that they don’t think the issues affect them and the other is that they think the issues are too overwhelming and they can’t make a difference.” One of the show’s most popular features turned out to be a scrolling feed at the bottom of the screen that illustrated people’s Tweets. “People like seeing themselves represented,” she says, “They need to be reminded that their actions actually matter.”
It’s hardly news that television and political campaigns have a lot in common. Both share the need to connect the message to the audience. The search for a good story for the evening segment is often a search for the issue viewers are most likely to relate to.
As Arianna puts it, “We found ourselves facing questions like, ‘How do you ask a steel worker in Ohio who just got off a 13 hour shift to care about cuts to the Postal Service?’ The answer is to distill a big picture idea and make it accessible to everyone.” On a campaign, listening to supporters is one of the best ways to do this. Arianna describes social media as a listening device as well as a megaphone that can be used to listen to supporters’ concerns, and then address them more broadly.
Another important strategy is to focus on the human element rather than presenting raw analysis of an issue, which tends to distance an audience. “When we wanted to do a story on the decline of the American Steel industry, we didn’t talk to experts who rattled off statistics,” she says. “We talked to laid-off workers.”
Once a campaign has determined the best way to articulate its message, it needs to determine its messengers. For a PR consultant, this means more than well-written releases, it also means presenting carefully chosen and well-prepared surrogates. A single interview can make or break a campaign and surrogates and spokespeople need to be able to defend their positions confidently without going off-message and sacrificing authenticity. “During the campaign, we didn’t want people to go on TV and be Bernie Sanders. The point was to provide folks with a genuine, but alternative voice, reiterating message in a new way.”
What sort of press a campaign goes after matters too. “It can be a moving target,” Arianna explains, “Campaigns start out wanting to do the New York Times, but it turns out a local newspaper will actually be more effective.” The Sanders campaign deployed regional networks in important battleground areas for exactly this reason. “Thought leadership is important on the national level, but there’s overlooked value in local news, which people in small towns trust more—after all, there is a special level of trust that comes from reading information that’s printed near the local high school basketball write up.”
In the social media age, the definition of PR is changing. Our team designs social media graphics and banner ads, runs innovative email fundraising campaigns, and has incorporated dozens of different ways to encourage progressives to call their legislators — some of which need a PR push to get noticed and some that have garnered press attention on their own. Arianna attributes this organic attention to creativity and willingness to try new things.
“One thing I’ve learned is you never want to put all your eggs in one basket,” she says. “You never know what’s going to work. Anything can become earned media if it can spark the right conversation.”