Interview: Melissa Klein

BarelyPolitical.com only launched in the beginning of June, but already they've enlisted the help of San Francisco-based firm LaunchSquad to manage media interest in the political humor Web site and its video "I've got a crush on Obama."

BarelyPolitical.com only launched in the beginning of June, but already they've enlisted the help of San Francisco-based firm LaunchSquad to manage media interest in the political humor Web site and its video "I've got a crush on Obama."

The video, made independent of the Barack Obama presidential campaign, has been widely viewed and discussed on the Internet and through traditional media outlets.

Melissa Klein, LaunchSquad account manager, answered PRWeek questions via e-mail about the now-famous video, how LaunchSquad has contributed to the video's viral success, and what the new media implications are for the 2008 race for president.

PRWeek: What was the reason for making the video "I've got a crush on Obama?"

Melissa Klein: The video was, in part, intended to be a play on the strategy of associating your candidate with a particular song. When Ben Relles, the founder of BarelyPolitical.com, heard about Hillary Clinton's "Choose Our Campaign Song" contest, he thought it would be funny and entertaining to create and produce a song and video about another political candidate. He loved the idea of a girl who is obsessed with Barack Obama. And the video itself was inspired by a video [by female pop entertainer] JoJo.

PRWeek: As an organization, what are the goals of BarelyPolitical?

Well, first off BarelyPolitical is a political humor website. The mission is to host and create smart, edgy political humor online - really a mix of politics and entertainment. All types of content will be displayed. The election is still 16 months away, and there will be a huge appetite for entertaining political content online.

PRWeek: How did LaunchSquad become involved?

Klein: When the video took off, Relles had literally dozens of calls from media

outlets. We had previously helped Relles work with the media when a previous video ["My Box in a Box" - a spoof on an R-rated Saturday Night Live video spoofing boy bands] that he created became a viral success. We helped manage the PR program and sustain and build the story in the media.

PRWeek: What is LaunchSquad's PR strategy for BarelyPolitical?

Klein: Well, I think it's important to keep in mind that content is really key. Even the best strategy - which in this case includes identifying online influencers, focusing on the niche political online communities and targeting mainstream outlets - will only be a success if the content is compelling. Fortunately, the content has been great so far, the team behind BarelyPolitical is a super smart, very creative group, and it makes our job easy.

One of our key roles is just making sure they understand how to talk with [the] media and present their story. It's easy to get sidetracked when you're on CNN or Fox News, and they've never had this type of exposure before. So LaunchSquad is very much a sounding board and we're here to make sure the BarelyPolitical team is getting the most from each media interaction. We're also trying to make a name for BarelyPolitical.com, and show that there's much more there to keep people coming than just an attractive girl and a hot song.

PRWeek: Do you think this video or others like it that may be made as a result could hurt the chances of a presidential candidate?

Klein: For starters, this is really new territory, and while [the] 2008 election has already been branded the YouTube election, nobody knows exactly what the impact will be, other than that there definitely will be an impact. I think people recognize BarelyPolitical's content as being humorous and entertaining first, and we're not a politically motivated organization. It's about entertainment. But, I think "Crush on Obama" is much more likely to help the campaign than hurt. The title says it all, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

PRWeek: This video has been viewed nearly two million times on YouTube and covered by the media in many stories. What do you think this says about the influence new media now exerts on politics? How do you think politicians can better use new media in their campaigns?

Klein: Beyond the direct viewership of the video on YouTube, we reached millions more people via CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and other mass media, so the reach and effect goes beyond just who actually watches the entire video. So many more people have now heard of Obama Girl.

I think it demonstrates that content aggregators and popular bloggers hold an

incredible amount of influence, and that, in today's media and political world, new stories can come from any direction and take hold very quickly.

There is a misconception that viral marketing is all about "one person spreading it to another person." In actuality, what makes an idea spread is getting the content aggregators and popular bloggers to put their stamp of approval on content - because they have people and fans who rely on them to tell them what's worth taking time out of their day to see.

That said, it's very dangerous to jump entirely on the new media bandwagon and discount the importance of traditional media. The Crush on Obama video eventually reached critical mass through mainstream channels. Jake Tapper at ABC broke the story. Once ABC broke it, then we were able to approach other outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune.

I also think that candidates should avoid the perception that they're trying too hard with new media. They end up doing things that come off as very unauthentic and insincere, but that's going to be a hard lesson to learn.

PRWeek: Do you have any other videos coming soon?

Klein: Yes. The next one will be out on Monday and Obama Girl will be part of a pretty fresh duet. You can see the teaser video at www.barelypolitical.com. It's called "Obama Girl vs Giuliani Girl."

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