Musings of a PR Professional

Rock the Vote: A communicaiton strategy for social change

I think that anyone would be hard pressed to find a young  adult who does not remember the Rock the Vote campaign from the 2004 presidential election. You couldn’t turn on your TV without seeing a commercial featuring P Diddy telling young adults why they should vote or Paris Hilton wearing a little Rock the Vote graphic tee in a hip magazine ad. But what is important about the Rock the Vote campaign is that it worked, and it is memorable.

Bar the fact that Rock the Vote has been around for 20 or so years, most young people had not heard about it until 2004 when the initiative decided to up the ante and really use pop culture and mainstream and online media to connect with young people. Their goal: Get young people to the polls. Rock the Vote did a lot to empower young people politically in 2004, but what they did that I think really worked was connect with young adults on their level. They used the media channels that young people were using, held events like concerts that young adults would want to attend, got “hot” celebrities to endorse their cause, and sold merchandise. While these are not terribly innovative ideas, this strategy was new in the sense that no one had ever made politics and voting cool before. Celebrities, MTV, blogging, and more made voting the it thing to do. That’s social change if I’ve ever seen it because it WORKED. You can check out Rock the Vote’s 2004 Youth Vote Results here, but here are the highlights:

  • Among 18-24 year olds, turnout was up 11 points to 47 percent.
  • Among 18-29 year olds, turnout was up 9 points to 49 percent.
  • More than 20 million votes were cast by 18-29 year olds, and 11.6 million were cast by 18-24 year olds, both up sharply from 2000.

So what can we learn from Rock the Vote, especially during the 2004 election? The best way to reach people is by engaging them through channels and messages they like and will respond to. Because let’s be honest, I’ll look at an ad about voting a lot longer if its Kim Kardashian or Zac Efron and not some random person. Don’t fight pop culture if it can work for you- Rock the Vote used it to create social change and they were successful. Keep up the good work!


Chapter 1: The Basics of Strategic Communications

Chapter one of Strategic Communications for Nonprofits (a trade book we are using as a textbook in the latest PR class I am taking) by Kathy Bonk, Emily Tynes, Henry Griggs, and Phil Sparks did a good job of reintroducing me to the public relations field. It’s been a year since I have taken a PR course at Clemson, and although I have been practicing PR in the “real world” at my internship, I think it’s quite different to learn than to do so I am thankful for the way this book has eased me back into the field.

As the title notes, the book’s focus is on PR for nonprofits, but the introductory nature of the first chapter lends itself well to pointing out a main theme/tenet every PR professional should follow: “… have a sound, well-planned communications strategy.” It is my belief that a well thought out plan can be one of the most important and useful tools to any PR professional. A fisherman would not sail out to sea without any navigation tools, so why should a PR professional begin their relationship-building efforts without a plan for what they want their message to be and how they will get this message across. Also, a plan is especially important in crisis situations. For example, while it is true that you can never plan for the unexpected, as a PR professional, you should have a general plan for how to handle a PR crisis when one arises.  The authors note, “You need to be in control of events before events control you,” when trying to turn around bad media coverage of your nonprofit. A previously developed plan is the best way to deflect a PR crisis because you can respond in a timely and comprehensive manner.

The idea that a well-prepared communications strategy is a vital part of a nonprofit’s success would be nothing if that strategy was not rooted in the organization’s values, mission, and goals. I think this is another great and relevant point that the authors make in this chapter. A marketing seminar that I attended last week at the Clemson Area Chamber Commerce dealt with the importance of making sure that every marketing effort is focused and in accordance with an organization’s purpose. The speaker emphasized that the beliefs at the core of any type of organization, not just nonprofits, should drive every PR tactic implemented or these efforts would be futile. You are only going to see the results you want if you have clearly outlined what you are trying to achieve and how you would like to achieve it. So, it is important to have a meaningful plan that uses communication as a tool to take your nonprofit where you would like it to go.