By : Muhammad Arif – Account Manager of Fortune PR
Politics is a high-stake game, no doubt. To make the public easily identify a candidate as the right person to rule, a politician is expected to have the most favorable identity through intense efforts of building positive image and reputation. It is a job for political PR to come up with a new ‘spin’ to sustain the positive political identity.
To do so, a politician should consider him or herself as a brand that needs to communicate effectively with the people. Paying attention to image and reputation is crucial for their long-term success. Even the ones with a significant amount of power, they can still be vulnerable without the support of their supporters.
Based on The Professional Guide to Celebrity Marketing Journal, politics is a sector in which image building and transformation truly dominate. Politics can be described as an image-intensive sector. In the election period as an example, most people vote for political candidates or parties without knowing the in-depth information about the candidates in advance. In most of the cases, voters often just choose the most acceptable political image for their personal preferences.
To add a new spin on building a positive political identity on an electoral candidate and to eliminate common negative stereotypes about a politician, let us reflect a bit on the political communication strategies during the latest presidential election in Indonesia and in the United States of America.
During their campaign, both President Joko Widodo and President Donald Trump present their abundant achievements. These achievements that reflect a competent leader will surely increase electability and impress the public. But to really win people’s hearts, it takes more than just promoting achievements. Their campaign programs also matter and must meet people’s expectation. They must answer the hopes and dreams of the people. If this is achieved, they will gain more trust from the people. This is the key to win.
Take a look at Nawa Cita, Joko Widodo’s priority agenda for instance. The Nawa Cita program is aimed to encourage changes for a better Indonesia, as well as to show the priority road changes towards a more politically sovereign, independent in economy, and diverse personalities in culture. Inside the blueprint, a more specific agenda includes bureaucratic reforms, corruption eradication, and sweeping changes to economic policy towards decreasing poverty. While campaigning for Nawa Cita, Joko Widodo emphasize on his famous tagline which is “work, work, work!”. At the same time, the media always exposed him as someone who is down-to-earth, modest, and Indonesia’s first president from outside the political and military elites. As we all know he was a diligent businessman. His track record shows that he has pledge a clean governance.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s campaign program “Make America Great Again!” made it to victory as a result of a movement to put America first, to save the American economy, and to make America once again a shining city on the hill. To understand Trump’s ideas about making America great again is essential to consider the great American eras that Trump himself admires in the past. Trump has said that the 1940s and 1950s were a great era for his country, and he sees many things in that age that are lacking in the present America. Trump himself is very well known for his successful background in business. His track record shows that he was the businessman that survive the economic crisis and successfully bounce back.
We can conclude that both Joko Widodo and Donald Trump’s campaign program is in line with their personal image. The Nawa Cita reflects the modest and diligent image of Joko Widodo. Trump’s “Make America Great Again!” campaign also reflects his successful bounce back from the economic crisis. Both of their campaign program also departs from current social issues and aimed to specifically answers the public’s hopes and dreams towards a better life and a better nation. Their campaign programs that is in line with their image and reputation, helped add a new ‘spin’ towards their positive political identity, not just from their outstanding track record and achievements.
If the campaign programs and their personal background is already in-line, the next step is to plan how they are going to engage their programs. Besides offline and online campaign as well as engaging the press and public figures, the presidential debate can be used by a political PR professional to effectively engage and support the candidate’s positive political identity. Since the news media often anticipate televised presidential debates as a national event of great importance, a study from The Racine Group on 2002 also shows that presidential debates do indeed matter. Their analysis shows that debates usually raises what scholars called “the trans-campaign effects”, that have a huge impact on voting behavior, image formation, and attitude change. While journalists often look for who won on the debate, viewers experience the debate differently. They make two simultaneous judgments: whether or not the candidate seems right to be the next president, or one of the candidates is a better choice than the other.
Thomas Holbrook has pointed out in his study about presidential debates that the most important debate, at least in terms of information acquisition, is the first debate. The first debate is held at a time when voters have less information at their disposal and a larger share of voters are likely to be undecided. The earlier debates are more powerful in terms of voters learning about a candidate. This shows just how the effects of presidential debate functions in a very important way. A political PR professional can use the debate momentum to add a new ‘spin’ to a candidate’s political identity by help ensuring that the audience interpret the message as planned, and to persuade public opinion in favor of a public figure. Looking at Joko Widodo and Donald Trump’s election success, both has successfully used the debate momentum to increase their popularity and electability. But again, it is important to note that after a candidate is elected, those who make the program happened will truly win people’s hearts.
 Source: Rein, I. J., Kotler Ph. and Stoller M. R. High Visibility. The Professional Guide to Celebrity Marketing. How Executives, Politicians, Entertainers, Athletes and Other Professionals Create, Market and Achieve Successful Image. London: Heinemann, 1987.
 Hyperlink: http://nasional.kompas.com/read/2014/05/21/0754454/.Nawa.Cita.9.Agenda.Prioritas.Jokowi-JK
 Hyperlink: https://www.donaldjtrump.com/
 Hyperlink: http://pci.missouri.edu/doc/do-presidential-debates-matter.pdf
 Hyperlink: http://www.jstor.org/stable/586586?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
 image copyright https://pixabay.com