In Political PR, Visual & Digestible Trump the Complex and Nuanced

In October 2012, On the heels of their first–and last–Vice Presidential debate, I typed “Joe Biden” and “Paul Ryan” into Google.

After each name, Google offered up three words to pair with each individual politician who was on his respective party’s ticket in the U.S. Presidential race.

See if you can guess which one had “marathon” and “shirtless” and “wife” and which one was paired up with “debate” and “gaffes” and “wiki.”

I suspect there’s little doubt that those words, respectively, matched up with Ryan, the Republican Vice Presidential candidate, and Biden, then wrapping up his first term as Vice President.

Having covered politics over the years, mostly pre-Google and mostly of the local variety, those words underscore the consistency of what appears to appeal not only to online surfers but to reporters: the simple, the trivial, the visually entertaining.

Why write about complex policy issues, requiring difficult analysis and a depth of reporting, when you can do a light piece on the politician’s dog or passion for Van Halen guitar solos?

Knowing this reality, it behooves any publicist or strategist–for a political campaign on any level–to explore ways to translate the complex and nuanced into digestible, bullet-item format for the media as well as for direct communication with the public.

For example: if someone is running for Oak Park Village Board (my community), a chart showing 10 or 20 key issues or categories, along with the candidate’s stand on each issue, is much more apt to get attention (and retention) than even the most eloquent dissertation that doesn’t hold a candle to the aforementioned chart’s visual appeal.

Once the candidate has captured his or her audience through this easy-to-digest format, then the more in-depth discussion can more readily, and effectively, flow. And if he runs marathons while shirtless and has an attractive wife running alongside him? Well, that’s just icing on the cake.

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