Let's Get It Started
March 10, 2016

Political Commentary in the Age of Vulgarity

This week, the Associated Press released guidelines for the use of words not commonly found crossing newswires. This in response to politicians recently using formerly-verboten words in public events, forcing the news service to instruct reporters on how best to navigate these so-called vulgarities. 

For those who live under a rock – and believe me, you’re lucky to do so – this election cycle has pushed rhetoric to depths of decorum previously unseen in presidential politics. And while every single election causes wonks to proclaim that we’ve sunk lower than we have before, this time around seems especially brutal.

As a result, every other story seems saturated with taunting rhetoric. Marco Rubio went from waging a (relatively) clean campaign to calling out the size of Trump’s hands, showing he’s willing to get down down in the mud to get in the cycle. And no matter who the final two are, it appears the vitriol will not let up until well beyond the oath of office.

In an ideal world, unrelated organizations would stay sheltered from this media environment. This may not unfortunately, be the case. In the new policy reality, you and your business must be prepared to react and respond, while still preserving your higher ground.

So what happens if you’re dragged into these negative reaction loops, or are having trouble rising above the din?

Listen – and respond – critically.

It would be easy to give in to the contagious smack-talking to get a fleeting mention in a story. It’s even easier to get in a twitter flame war with someone (or some company) you don’t agree with. Same goes for being colloquial or crass: Bernie Sanders’s remark about mental illness was supposed to be a throwaway laugh line. Remember: most of the time it’s better to respond well than to just respond at all.

While petty reactions and outraged responses may initially garner attention, they’re not what you want your organization to be remembered by. Of course, correct the record if needed, but only if absolutely necessary. Otherwise you’ll be dragged into the argument itself, and gain no ground on the issues you’re getting traction on.

Take a deep breath and find the story.

In a particularly heated topic, is there a way to provide value without getting in muck? Are there greater underlying issues that you can address via data or commentary? Can you solve an issue raised, no matter how ugly the package it was raised in? While anyone can shout loudly that something is broken, the conversation changes if your organization provides substantive solutions.

Practice, Persist, Prevail.

Remember the long game. Many of the policy issues our clients face are not those that are solved in one term, let alone one news cycle. While they can oftentimes feel like wars of attrition, minds – and issues – change over time.

So be better, and know more. Read everything you can on the issue. Know what your opponent or competitor is saying. Stay ahead of the story, and stay relevant to it. While it may all seem like the political tenor of this election is slowly dragging us into the sea, the only way to win is to keep faith and rise above.

And when in doubt, bring on the baby panda photo ops.

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