Public Sector: Lessons from the Obama campaign

Back in August, Michael Tomasky wrote on his blog that Barack Obama's campaign team was making a mistake in ignoring John McCain's focus on the news cycle.

'The news cycle does matter, and Obama has lost about 23 of the last 30 (days of coverage),' said Tomasky, the editor of Guardian America, after talking to Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe.

Tomasky believed that Obama had been badly hurt. He was not at all convinced by Plouffe's insistence that 'voters listen more to people in their communities they know and trust than they listen to attack ads or blowhards on television'.

It is easy to be wise after the event. But Plouffe does seem to have been proven right - and other bloggers are already drawing out the lessons for PR.

'The Obama victory marks more than a change in American eras (sic) on race relations. It marks a change in American eras for PR as well,' wrote Robert Niles on 5 November in his blog in the Online Journalism Review.

'No longer can we consider PR primarily as a function of media relations. In the Obama campaign, PR was even more a function of community organizing.'

Obama's success suggests that just connecting is not enough. 'The architects and builders of the Obama field campaign... have undogmatically mixed timeless traditions and discipline of good organizing with new technologies of decentralization and self-organization,' said Zack Exley of The Huffington Post on 8 October.

The challenge is how to resolve the tension between control and that decentralised, self-organising approach. Some people have got it badly wrong. Have a look online for examples of what happened when General Motors asked people to make their own SUV commercials (although it did boost sales).

So, if you were one of those who stayed up all night to watch the election result, you can console yourself that you were sharpening your PR skills - at least that is what I am telling everyone. Paul Mylrea is director of comms at the Department for International Development.

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