A Guide to Political Communications
When It Comes To Political Communications, Make Your Point and Keep It Brief
Say it! Say it loud and say it proud. Political communications can spread fast or move like molasses depending on how you use it. We live in a world where political and advocacy campaigns have a lot of ways to communicate and influence their community advocates and opinion leaders. Tactics like television, direct mail, print, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, blogs, online video, SMS, etc. are all engaging in their own ways.
However, with all of these options, we have become increasing lazy with our words. It’s easier to give an overload of information than to think of a creative and succinct way to deliver a message. Droning on—especially in advocacy or political communications—is pointless.
Take a moment to think about what happens to your brain when you look at something that has 30 bullet points with everything you never bothered to learn about a particular issue. If you’re like most of the population, I’m betting that your eyes glaze over a bit, and if you’re super motivated, you might skim the thing before jettisoning it (hopefully in your recycling bin).
So how do we make our point? Here are some quick tips on how to make a point in advocacy and political communications followed by a selection of our favorite political communications books. Some books in the list are purely political while others are just great books on communications writing and the communications process.
Images help. This is why I love photography and cartoons so much: in just one frame you can covey so much information. We use a lot of illustration and photography in our work to help make a point clearer and cut through.
Be self-critical. Do you really need that 2-page press release, 3-page resumé, or slide with seven bullet points? No, you really don’t. A good editor will be your best friend when it comes to cutting unnecessary content. It may not be you. A co-worker or a friend can help.
Don’t do it in one day. Part of the problem in our instant communication world is that we don’t take time to think about what we really need to say. Writing on paper, we used to treat our words with more care. If you get stuck, try writing by hand and then go back to the computer. Physically writing out words can often engage different parts of your brain to get things moving again.
Who am I talking to? My mentor Hal Malchow would always remind me to write from the reader’s point of view. Does this resonate with them? Can I be clearer? Bolder? Shorter? Why should they care or act? By proactively answering the audiences’ questions, you can make your argument stronger.
Don’t be afraid to write short sentences. We think the longer we write, the better the grade we will get. Long sentences obscure the point and make it that much harder for folks to understand what you’re trying to say in the first place. Only you can prevent boredom.
Know your message. Before you start writing, make sure you have a real understanding of what your organizational message is. A message box can help. If you have not done one recently, try it.
Get rid of the acronyms. People don’t live in your world of abbreviations, so don’t even try to use them. Spell out your message and goals in words your audience understands and connects with.
Tell a story. Good political communications tells a story. Stories engage in a way that facts and figures don’t. It puts impact to life.
Have a clear call to action. I am a fan of good calls-to-action because they give a clear message to advocates and voters about what they should do next.
My favorite books on communications:
To be a good communicator takes time and practice. Over the years I have become a fan of learning about communications. Here are a few books on writing and the creative process I like:
Everybody Writes by Ann Handley: If you are looking to write content for the web, this book is a great starting place.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont: Humorous and wise – what more could you ask for?
The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall: We are wired for stories. This great books tells us why and how to use stories to engage.
The Political Speechwriter's Companion by Robert Lehrman and Eric Schnure: This is a great book on how to pull together a speech with emotion and connection.
The Responsive Chord by Tony Schwartz: An oldie, but a goodie!
Trust Me, I'm Lying by Ryan Holiday: This is a cautionary tale about how media manipulation and disinformation happens still incredibly relevant today.
Time is a valuable resource, especially in political communication. This means that it’s tough to get people to spend theirs on you. On average, you’ve got about 3 - 5 seconds to catch someone’s attention with your political communication, and even if you do get it, you only have about 20 - 30 more seconds of their attention. That means to have any hope of making your way into someone’s consciousness, you’ve got to make your point, and you’ve got to make it quickly.
- Keep your readers in mind – your readers value their time, not your words.
- Keep it simple – give the one or two most important points and leave it at that.
- Keep it focused – you should be able to explain each point in one or two sentences.
How do you make political communications resonate? Share your political communications strategies below!
You can also check out more on campaign strategy here!