By Maury Tobin
As someone with more than 20 years of experience in public relations, watching this sometimes-bizarre presidential campaign gives me pause. The race has turned on its head the various ways American politics plays out, heightening the lightning speed of how information travels today.
Years back, I had the pleasure of working with the late Michael Deaver during a Radio Media Tour (RMT). The campaign was for Deaver’s book, “A Different Drummer: My Thirty Years with Ronald Reagan.” Deaver was an Edelman executive who was also the deft creator and image finishing man for Reagan, turning him into a political brand through stagecraft and media engagement.
Our firm was hired by Edelman Vice President Craig Brownstein, who I interviewed for TCI’s latest “PR Podcast.” Despite the shifts political marketers face, Brownstein recalls that what he learned from Deaver still stands.
But the Deaver era, it seems to me, required a more subtle art. Because of social media and a constant ticker of news dished up by talking heads, there isn’t as much time for the credible and calculated work someone such as a Deaver did. The current deference to brash spontaneity has rejiggered how politicians act and are viewed, and also impacts how ideologues become digital go-tos.
Yet history also provides a compass. I reflect on handlers who didn’t want Americans seeing Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a wheelchair or the well-known retrospection of how John Kennedy prevailed in a 1960 presidential debate because of how a sweaty Richard Nixon came across via television.
Based on this, one would think Donald Trump’s tantrums and tweets could do irreparable damage, yet what we see instead is a phenomenon that may linger long after the November election. But context, such as that from Brownstein, reminds us that managing a political persona or brand requires more than posting a puzzled Emoji or a late-night tweet.