As branders, marketers and promoters of organizations, we’re often hard-wired to script precise, targeted messages about who we are and what we offer, and stick religiously to that message. Knowing what your firm stands for, being consistent about those ideas, and communicating them regularly is, of course, fundamental to a successful public relations strategy. But sometimes, stepping away from the script is the most powerful thing you can do.
If you’ve engaged in even the most elemental PR, you’ve probably carefully crafted language for your website under headings such as “values,” “goals” and “who we are” that defines your firm in riskless, measured tones. And while it’s important to stick to the same message across all platforms, that effort can be supplemented by other creative, more unconventional tactics that reveal your brand’s personality and connect to your audience on a more personal level.
With election season in our rearview mirror, it’s not hard to find a few powerful examples of how this works. You may have seen, for instance, the online ad of Gerald Daugherty, a Republican County Commissioner from Texas up for re-election, that went viral. In that clip, the candidate’s wife pleads with viewers to re-elect her husband, who is obsessed with a desire to “fix things,” and is pictured droning on about the tedious details of various government issues to the “glazed over” looks of others around him. “Please re-elect Gerald,” she says. “Please.”
The ad recently hit nearly 3.8 million views and, according to its creators, Austin, Texas-based KC Strategies, was translated into multiple languages, including French, Mandarin, Croatian, and Hindi. Some candidates may have bristled at the idea of appearing “annoying” in front of so many viewers, but by embracing this character flaw, Daugherty was able to make people laugh and pierce through the mold of the conventional political ad. He injected much-needed levity into an otherwise intense campaign season. He won his election, but even if he hadn’t, he would have walked away with a name recognition exponentially larger than before.
Another candidate whose online political ad was widely viewed was Democrat Jason Kander, a former Army Captain who served in Afghanistan and mounted a U.S. Senate seat campaign in Missouri. In his clip, which garnered more than 1.4 million views, Kander assembles an assault rifle blindfolded while speaking about gun rights, as a way to take on his Republican opponent who he said had been “attacking” him on the issue. He states his support for Second Amendment rights, while spelling out his belief in background checks “so the terrorists can’t get their hands on one of these.” He closes with a challenge, saying he’d like to see his opponent pull off the same feat, just after removing his blindfold and snapping the last piece of the rifle in place.
Few would have considered piecing together an assault rifle as part of their campaign ad, but Kander did so with such skill and responsibility that he was able to make a powerful connection with viewers. It was bold, yet not uncomfortable. The prop helped voters visualize Kander as the military officer he once was, and as someone who could be trusted with the issue of gun safety, although he still lost his election. And in a somewhat unconventional parting note on his website, he did away with the standard niceties of losing speeches. He opted instead for an urgent tone, using his platform to energize supporters into activism. He may have been defeated at the polls, but it’s likely that message and others that follow will have a much bigger audience because of his ad.
There are many ways to raise your profile or boost your media relations efforts. But you don’t always have to try so hard. Sometimes, it’s enough to just be yourself. Neither candidate relied on the overused language of campaign speeches or the tired formats of traditional political campaign ads. That doesn’t mean they abandoned their identities or changed their fundamental messaging, but they were able step away from the script to find a new way to communicate. Both ads were simple and refreshingly honest, and gave voters a rare opportunity to connect to a person instead of just a message. Whether it’s a moment of poking fun at yourself, sharing a vulnerability or revealing a raw emotion, it’s something we all should try.