Posted At: November 18, 2009 12:50 PM
by Sara Sanderson
Where does public relations fit in to the political world? Public relations is extremely important for political candidates as they develop ways to communicate messages to their constituents and to the media. In addition, public relations strategies and tactics that candidates employ are extremely important to their campaigns.
As Republican and Democratic primaries in Alabama approach in summer 2010, the gubernatorial candidates have chosen to utilize different strategies and tactics as they begin building relationships with constituents.
Dr. Robert Bentley (Republican)
Dr. Robert Bentley has been in the political arena since 1998 and is currently a state representative for House District 63.
Zach Lee, press contact for the Bentley 2010 Campaign, said that right now the team working on Bentley’s campaign is only targeting Republican voters for the primary.
“We try to establish relationships through personal contact by traveling the state and speaking at groups, service clubs and forums,” said Lee. “We try to sustain our relationships through e-mail and Facebook. It’s hard to communicate with everyone we meet, but stewardship is an important part of the public relations process.”
As far as strategies go, Lee said that the Bentley campaign is trying to target the strong Republican areas of the state for the primary.
“We purchase most of our advertising for those areas and we use our direct mail and even e-mail to reach these areas and let them know when we are going to be in those areas,” said Lee. “We’re using direct mail, e-mail and paid advertisements, but we also use several social media: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Eventful and Digg.” Lee said that the great thing about using the Web-based advertisements and the new social networking is that it is measurable.
Bradley Byrne (Republican)
Bradley began his career in public service in 1994 but does not currently hold political office.
Campaign Manager Evelyn McCafferty said,“His message for reform conveys broadly and his supporters are equally diverse. He is asking for the support of every voter in Alabama.”
McCafferty also said that Byrne has a plan to establish and sustain relationships with his constituents. “He has met thousands of dedicated Alabamians who share his desire to continue moving the state in the right direction,” she said. “Bradley welcomes everyone to visit his Web site to learn more about the issues. In addition to learning more about Bradley and his campaign, visitors can also submit questions, stay up-to-date on events that Bradley will be attending, sign up to receive his weekly Update from the Trail e-mails and learn where to find him on Facebook and Twitter.”
McCafferty said that Byrne is using various strategies as Decision 2010 approaches. He is traveling from one end of the state to another, meeting individuals and speaking to groups to share his campaign message.
Byrne is also utilizing various tactics. “He is speaking to individuals and groups, engaging traditional news outlets (print, television and radio) and utilizing new media outlets like Facebook and Twitter,” McCafferty said.
Artur Davis (Democrat)
U.S. Rep. Artur Davis currently represents Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District, a 12-county area that spans from Birmingham and Tuscaloosa to the Black Belt.
The communications director of the Artur Davis 2010 Campaign, Alex Goepfert, said that Davis’ primary constituents are Alabama primary and general election voters.
“The Davis campaign is building relationships with voters and aggressively communicating Artur Davis’ message through traditional events, as well as volunteer outreach, social networking, e-mail, our Web site and earned and paid media,” said Goepfert.
Goepfert said, “Artur Davis is running for governor to transform Alabama’s economy and unlock the full potential of our state. He is traveling across Alabama talking to voters about his vision for creating the jobs of the 21st century, reforming our public schools and fixing our broken state government.”
Goepfert said the Davis campaign is satisfied with the strategies and tactics the team is using.
Kay Ivey (Republican)
Kay Ivey is the incumbent state treasurer, and she has been elected twice during 2002 and 2006.
Rick Renshaw, campaign manager for Kay Ivey for Governor, said, “Ivey’s primary constituents are the people of Alabama — young and old; male and female; black, white, brown, red and yellow; rich and poor; north, south, east, and west; whatever station or status they occupy.”
Renshsaw said that since her announcement, Ivey has been, and continues to be, out on the road meeting citizens, speaking to various political and civic groups and sharing her ideas for making Alabama more productive and prosperous. “She believes that she will be able to establish and sustain relationships with constituents by working tirelessly as she travels the four corners of Alabama and everywhere in between,” said Renshaw.
“One of her best tools for communicating directly with the people is her campaign Web site where interested citizens can read more about Kay and even ask her questions about issues that are of great importance to them,” said Renshaw. “Ivey is also very active on Facebook and Twitter.”
Tim James (Republican)
Having grown up in the home of a two-term governor of Alabama, Tim James has been around politics throughout his life. James does not currently hold political office.
Brett Hall, political director of the Tim James 2010 Campaign, said James’ primary constituents are conservatives who vote in Republican primaries.
Hall said that James is working hard to establish and sustain relationships with constituents.“Strong leadership comes from taking the office of the governor to communities throughout Alabama. Accessibility to the governor builds confidence among key constituencies and the public at large. Also, open and positive relations with members of the Alabama Legislature will be important for the next governor,” said Hall.
Hall said that many strategies are being used in the James campaign as Decision 2010 approaches. “First, we have spent the past 18 months building a strong statewide grass-roots organization that will be invaluable in getting out the vote operations this spring,” said Hall. “In addition, we have built a strong finance leadership team to raise campaign funds for what will be a very expensive campaign. We have a strong communications system for conventional news media messaging along with digital communications networking to move our campaign message on a one-to-one relationship with the people of Alabama.”
Bill Johnson (Republican)
Bill Johnson said he has been in the political arena since 1993 but does not currently hold political office.
“My primary constituents as I concentrate on the gubernatorial race are each and every citizen in Alabama,” Johnson said.
“I have a strategy as I approach the race as well,” Johnson said. “I look at what the important issues are to my constituents, and I develop answers. I know most people are worried about the economy and job security. My team wants to develop solutions to these problems.”
He said he believes Facebook, Twitter, blogging and Internet advertising are the main tactics he is utilizing as the primary approaches. “I believe that all of the candidates are utilizing a lot of the same tactics,” Johnson said.
Roy Moore (Republican)
Roy Moore ran for office the first time in 1982 but does not currently hold a political office.
John Wahl, campaign communications director, said everyone in Alabama is a primary constituent as Moore concentrates on the gubernatorial race.
“I would say our strongest support comes from Christian conservatives and the business community who Roy Moore has a special interest in, and understanding of their needs for less taxes and regulations,” Wahl said.
Moore is planning to establish and sustain relationships with his constituents by listening to them. Wahl said, “Communication is one of the most important things for constituents. They need to know what we are doing, and we want to know what their thoughts are, and what they would like to see.”
When asked about strategies being used as Decision 2010 approaches, Wahl said, “Our strategy is to let the people of Alabama get to know Moore and hear his ideas.”
Moore is also using various tactics to reach constituents. He is using direct mail, advertisements, social media and also a new call center that is coming online soon. “Something that is exciting to me is the power of the Internet and our social networking sites,” Wahl said.
Ron Sparks (Democrat)
Ron Sparks has been involved in politics since 1978, and he is currently the Alabama commissioner of agriculture and industries.
Justin Saia, campaign manager for Ron Sparks for Governor, said that Sparks includes Democrats, Republicans and independents as primary constituents.
Saia said that Sparks believes he will sustain relationships with constituents by remaining consistent.
The Sparks campaign is experimenting with many strategies. “We oversee all aspects of the research, drafting and implementation of a statewide campaign plan,” said Saia. “We define roles and negotiate contracts with vendors, consultants and staff. We also have to lead the fundraising team in identifying and soliciting funds for a significant fundraising campaign. We manage and oversee the development of all paid media production, distribution and broadcast material. Lastly, we coordinate statewide committees and manage all aspects of fiduciary oversight, legal administration and adherence to campaign finance reporting requirements.”
The Sparks campaign is also using tactics such as organizing and implementing a comprehensive and aggressive political grassroots field program consisting of targeted voter contact through direct mail, external media, phone banks, canvassing, volunteer outreach and social media strategies.
It will be interesting to see how different public relations strategies and tactics employed by these candidatres effect results in the primary Alabama gubernatorial election. Using public relations throughout a candidate’s campaign and building relationships with constituents are both key. The statewide voting primary will take place in June 2010, and the general election will take place in November 2010.
Graphic by Niki Gautier