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7 Lessons In Modern PR Tactics: Joe Wilson On Offense

by bdonahue

In the wake of the event of Congressman Wilson’s comment on September 9th, we began an effort to get Congressman Wilson’s message out and change the dynamics of the fast developing environment. Here is a list of the lessons learned.

1. Respond Immediately. Saul Alinsky wrote in Rules for Radicals, “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” This is exactly why immediate action was necessary for the response effort behind Joe Wilson. This was a huge issue and it had jumped immediately into the national spot light. By constantly reiterating Wilson’s apology to the President and conveying his strong position on the issue, we were able to begin shaping the issue on our terms. It was important for us to get Congressman Wilson’s message out where people were consuming fast-breaking news.

2. Hire Talented Operatives to Fill-In Gaps. In the days after the speech remark the Wilson team spoke and met frequently. A fast decision process was key for making improvements in places where we suspected we needed extra hands. One critical area was online social media. Within 12 hours after the event, we brought on social media specialists to direct much of our online communication and messaging. While the narrative surrounding Joe Wilson quickly became a national story, there was an intense focus on specifically communicating with people in his home district. By incorporating our local new media firm we were able to hone our message to a national audience while also speaking personally with the Congressman’s constituents in the district. We also sought out counsel from communications experts on responses and language selection.

3. Create an Overwhelming Online Presence. In any PR situation it’s essential to exploit mediums and channels that will carry your message most effectively. In the first 24 hours after the speech, we explored all channels of communication for getting our message out and defending against attacks. Figuring out where to take the fight was crucial in determining where to put our resources and begin forcing the debate back to the issue of health care. We knew that influencers and news outlets would be looking for this information online. The events were happening by the minute and by the hour – online was where we needed to respond and provide new information from Congressman Wilson. Traditional print media couldn’t keep up with the pace of this issue.

4. Quickly Determine Allies and Enemies and Obsessively Monitor Their Activities. After the President’s speech, liberal allies on the left began calling for Wilson’s head. Act Blue, an online leftwing issue and fundraising group, had begun an effort to raise money for Wilson’s 2010 opponent, who was virtually non-existent 24 hours earlier. This was the first of many organizations who would use their resources to gun for Wilson. While typical allies on our side were still sorting out the speech and Wilson’s reaction, we knew this issue was taking on a larger presence in the national news and would be difficult for us to fight alone. We quickly engaged our allies on the right and enlisted their assistance to combat the growing attacks from the left. This required constant communication on our part to illustrate how much the left was organizing against us. We encouraged our allies to give voice to the issue by sharing Joe Wilson’s passion and stand against the health care plan.

5. Use Web videos to Create More Dimension to Your Message.
People needed to hear directly from Congressman Wilson. He is a warm and friendly individual and we knew that the news stories coming out wouldn’t portray that side of him. So we created web videos, which carried Congressman Wilson’s responses, from him directly speaking to online audiences. These videos were quickly picked up by several major TV news outlets, and in-fact, were shown on Wilson’s appearance on Chris Wallace’s Sunday show. Web videos have a massive impact because they tell the story in moving pictures, which is how we see the world. You can’t tell a three dimensional story in two dimensions.

6. Once You Have Your Footing, Transfer from a Defensive Posture to an Offensive Posture. Many expected Congressman Joe Wilson to play down his outburst and look for cover away from the situation it caused. However, with Wilson’s leadership, it was our responsibility to do the opposite. In quickly evaluating the PR landscape and working in it we gained the confidence that allowed us to move from a position of weakness to a position of strength.

7. Know When to Throttle Up and Throttle Down – Never Let Up Until You Risk Over-Exposure. At every point, exposure was evaluated for it’s worth in value versus it’s detriment in risk. Careless and gratuitous media exposure on a polarizing issue can lead to irrevocable negative consequences (i.e. Sarah Palin). Every piece of traditional media exposure outside the delivery system of the effort was evaluated on a cost vs. benefit analysis. Media exposure must have a pre-determined objective. Don’t do press just to do press.