Kim Campbell was famously quoted during the 1993 federal election campaign as saying that “an election is no time to discuss serious issues.” The former Progressive Conservative prime minister’s apparent glib remark created a storm of controversy, and contributed to her demise and the spectacular defeat of the PCs.
Clearly, Canadians didn’t like what they heard. Elections are not simply personality contests or horse races. And as much as Canadians want to hear about the serious issues, journalists want to report them.
From afar, election campaigns can appear messy and confusing, with the party leaders criss-crossing the country by bus or plane, arriving at an event with an entourage of staff and a trail of reporters, staying for a short time and then departing as quickly as they arrived. But there is some predictability amid the chaos—and a chance for organizations to talk about their issues.
Reporters are hungry for good content—not just rhetoric or observations. Journalists will report on a story if it’s a good story. They want to tell stories that are useful and compelling to their readers, viewers and listeners or those on their social media platforms.
If your organization has a good story to tell, it will be told. But you have to be strategic about when. News travels at lightning speed in these days of social media, and taking several hours to wordsmith a press release or work out the perfect sound bite is not productive. You will not be successful.
Many organizations are so slow to respond that reporters are on to other stories by the time they cobble together or decide on an answer, and the opportunity is lost. Election campaigns are not static.
However, you will see success if you are proactive and nimble, ready to jump into the discussion when a reporter calls or an opportunity arises.
Here are five ways to tell your story during the hurly-burly of a campaign:
The debates. Several debates have been scheduled during this campaign, including the two official commission debates, one each in English and French, in October. The party leaders usually take breaks from their touring schedule for preparation as the debate approaches, providing gaps that need to be filled in the news cycle. For example, the Munk Debate is scheduled for October 1, and is focused on foreign policy. If your issues relate to trade, development or Canada-U.S. relations, here is your chance to insert your view into the discourse. You can engage before or after the debate. Both times make sense.
The leader’s tour is coming to your town, city or region. Tour schedules can change quickly, but you usually have some warning before the leader is arriving. Take that time to frame your issue in advance, and talk to reporters about its importance to your region in this campaign.
Polls show your issue is top-of-mind for Canadians. Throughout the campaign, various media outlets will publish opinion polls—there is usually an obvious cadence to when the polls appear, which will inform as to the issues that concern Canadians. If healthcare or energy issues are rising to the top, and you are in that sector, use the poll as a peg to talk about exactly how your organization is dealing with this issue, and get out your message.
Political panels. The political shows on the main television networks, such as CTV’s Question Period and Global’s West Block, and the daily political cable networks, such as CTV’s Power Play and CBC’s Power and Politics, want different voices and unique perspectives on their panels—so put yourself out there when your issue arises. Be proactive and look for opportunities when your issues are in the news.
Platforms are released. Each party will release its platform in their own way. It used to be that party leaders would dribble out a policy each day of the campaign as a way to manage their news coverage. Reporters called this the “daily Gainsburger”—a reference to the popular dog food patty—being thrown at them every day. However, life on the campaign trail has evolved so that some party platforms are released in their entirety at one event, usually fairly soon after the writ is dropped. This gives you a chance to comment on the party’s promises that affect your issues.
The moral of this story—be prepared; be proactive and be strategic about timing.
Our experts can help you position your issues and be heard during the campaign. Contact our Public Affairs and Government Relations specialists to learn how.
——— Jane Taber is a former Vice-President, Public Affairs at NATIONAL Public Relations