Advertising and public relations serve to communicate ideas and convince the audience of something. Politicians are among the most prolific advertising spenders during election campaigns and can have enormous public relations machines. This is especially true of Presidential candidates, who must first run for their party's nomination and then must run for President. We know that Hillary Clinton went from frontrunner to loser in the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2008. There are lessons to be learned about the different factors that contribute to selling an idea, in this case Clinton as President, to different audiences. This case study will evaluate Clinton's campaign leading up to the Democratic primary using the ROSTE model. The ROSTE model focuses on research, objectives, strategies, tactics and evaluation.
The Hillary Clinton campaign at the time of the case was a large organization. It featured both extensive advertising and public relations, backed by substantial funding that was more than her competitors had access to. There were two target audiences during this part of the campaign. The first was the voters in the Democratic primary, as this represents the first step towards becoming President. The author (Stetz) does not appear to have made the distinction between the two audiences, but Clinton would fail at the first stage, so any effort to cultivate the broader audience of American voters was ultimately wasted effort. Her spending, advertising and public relations in 2007 was aimed at primary voters initially, because they are a distinct audience from general election voters (Murray, 2008).
Many different techniques are used to help understand the target market during such campaigns. Extensive polling is done to attempt to understand the approximate rates of popularity among candidates. Focus groups and interviews are conducted to gather qualitative data about the opinions voters have about the candidates, with the objective of identifying patterns in the data that can be helped to shape the message and the way that the candidate is presented to the audience. Social media can also provide information about the people supporting each candidate, so that the candidate is better aware of the strengths and weaknesses of his/her audience. Thus, extensive use of both qualitative and quantitative research is used, both from primary and from secondary sources.
The research appears to be valid and reliable. The more organized forms of research such as focus groups and polling would have been very reliable. Gawiser and Witt (2012) outline the criteria for what is considered a reliable poll, and in general most in-house polling done by political parties meets these criteria. The information used in the Clinton campaign would have come mainly from in-house sources, though there were many public polls run by media organizations that would have also provided data. The Clinton campaign would have been aware of these polls, but might not have had full access to the inputs of these polls. The polling done in-house would have been suited to the task, because it would have accurately gauged target audience reaction to the marketing campaign in which Clinton was engaged, in particular responses to her policy ideas and with respect to her personal popularity.
To secure the Democratic Presidential Nomination
To project Clinton favorably as a Presidential candidate
To establish Clinton's policy credentials for the job of President
To establish Clinton's personal credibility and popularity
To differentiate Clinton from the other leading candidates (Obama, Edwards)
These objectives are essentially the same as the other candidates would have had. Clinton had an experienced team on hand, but the weakness of having this set of objectives is that it lacks a coherent underlying message. Clinton needed a stronger framing of her own personal contributions to the role of President, rather than a generic "Clinton is good" sort of message, which I think is what flowed from having these objectives. From a technical perspective, these objectives are fine because things like credibility and popularity and suitability are all operationalized in poll data that can fairly accurately mirror election results. That the Clinton campaign was somewhat social media shy shows that she was not using a technology that has, in time, proven to be a valuable predictor of many of these objectives -- Obama successfully operationalized his objectives with social media and this helped him to understand his audience better (Rojas, 2013).
There were several communications strategies that were used. Clinton relied on advertisements in key swing areas, and she made a lot of personal appearances. These appearances served to underscore her commitment to dialogue and to portray Clinton as a leader. Further, the Clinton campaign waged a public relations war, with PR spokespeople providing information, sound bites and clips to the media, which duly reported on this content. Social media was downplayed as part of the campaign, largely because it lacked initial success, but perhaps also because the Clinton team did not understand how to use it well.
The Clinton campaign strategies were similar to those of other leading candidates in their structure. There are no real weaknesses on paper, but in practice Clinton underestimated the power of social media in the 2007-08 campaign. Clinton's focus on controlling the message in traditional media left her vulnerable in social media for two reasons. The first is that social media is popular among young voters, who matter in Presidential campaigns if not primary campaigns. The second is that this high level of control cast Clinton as perhaps a bit standoffish -- her objections to the ridiculous WaPo article about her clothes did not portray her with good humor, and would not have resonated well with many in her target audience, who want a bit more humanity in their Presidential candidates. Clinton's faults were not strategic, but tactical (Cree, 2008).
Clinton's primary campaign cost around $250 million (OpenSecrets.org, 2008). Much of this was spent on traditional media and on public relations, including extensive touring of the nation. Clinton spent little developing social media, as her early attempts struggled. Her efforts were focused on creating and controlling messages (Cree, 2008), a tactic that would ultimately fail. Most of her competitors adopted a similar strategy and fell by the wayside as well. Barack Obama was successful in part because his campaign gave voters the impression that they were creating more of the message than they perhaps were. During the primary, Clinton's messages included "Let the Conversation Begin" and other inclusive slogans, but these messages lack the aura of leadership. These messages created an image of Clinton as a facilitator, rather than a leader, and ultimately contrasted with the message that the Obama campaign had. Clinton seemed to show more strength in defending her image than she did in the meat of her policy proposals, which mirrored those of other candidates. Moreover, she failed to differentiate herself enough from the political establishment, something that would hurt her among primary voters who felt that a wholesale change from the status quo was required.
If Clinton was a corporate, she would have been a profitable #2 company and the campaign would have been considered a success. However, success in a primary campaign has only one metric -- the nomination -- and Clinton did not win this. The campaign was a failure. How much Clinton has studied her campaign to identify the points of success and failure depends on whether she plans to run in 2016 or not. If she is not going to run, there was likely to evaluation and none needed. If she plans to run in 2016, the evaluation process needs to be comprehensive, but it remains unknown if such a post mortem has been conducted other than in the media.
Hillary Clinton 2008 makes a great case study. Two things stand out in this study. The first is that this differs from a corporate…