Political Public Relations
By Julia Trainor
Last week alone, Pepsi offended thousands by launching a controversial commercial, President Trump directed a missile strike on Syria, and the Senate invoked the “nuclear option” in order to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. Continuing the buzz was White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who came under heavy criticism this week during a press briefing in which he claimed Hitler did not use chemical weapons. As a public relations and political science student, I find these events- and the press behind them- to be incredibly interesting. How does a corporation effectively incorporate politically driven issues into an advertisement? How does a Presidential administration convey such impactful decisions to the media? These questions are where political communication and public affairs come in.
The George Washington University defines political communication as “the study of the flow of information through political processes: the study of who knows what, when, where and how; and how people use their information to further political goals.” Since the conception of this nation, the press has served as an external watchdog over government, essentially ensuring the public can hold officials accountable through the spread of information. A political public relations professional stands in the middle- delivering content and messages from the elected official and helping him or her engage with constituents. For example, a Press Secretary for a local mayor or the Communications Director for a governor may be responsible for holding press conferences, writing press releases, and answering questions regarding the official’s political objectives.
An additional area of focus for this type of work includes campaigns. The 2008 election saw many emerging trends in the way politicians use social media. President Barack Obama continued his team’s strategic use of social media by announcing his endorsement of Hillary Clinton via YouTube. Campaign managers continuously look for public relations professionals who can effectively reach voters online. Undetermined yet is the extent to which traditional language rings essential to voters; the seemingly spontaneous, exclamatory tweets by Trump were a shift away from the professionalism of Obama, but clearly did not dissuade enough voters in the end.
Outside of campaigns or administrations, politics and media still play an essential role in how policy is shaped. If working entirely on behalf of another individual does not appeal to you, jobs in public affairs are also great options for public relations students. These individuals promote the policy objectives of an organization, association, or nonprofit in order to gain public and legislative support. Part of this job may include meeting with representatives to discuss key policy issues, but other public relations functions such as social media, informational materials, and media relations remain the same.
As illustrated by the issues above, a need persists for politicians to be transparent, accountable, and engaging with their communities. If done right, political communications can fulfill this role, and help bring key issues and legislative accomplishments to the public’s attention. As I begin preparing for my summer internship in Washington, D.C., I look forward to exploring the role of public affairs in the midst of a new presidential administration.