The fusion of technology and its integration played a great role in the re-election campaign of US President Barack Obama, said Jim Messina, campaign manager for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign during a session of the Sharjah Government Communication Forum.
The case study session titled “Communication in Election Campaigns” (Obama’s Re-election Campaign 2012) - International Case Study” by Messina and Colleen Harris, former press secretary to the Prince of Wales, Prince William and Prince Harry, discussed communication strategies and principles for political campaigns.
Messina said that “technology had changed completely, when he [Obama] ran four years before, Facebook was one tenth of the size it is now. In 2008 we sent out one tweet because we thought it was a silly technology that will never go anywhere.”
He said that they put together over 140 pieces of technology, all to make the citizen’s job easier as a supporter. “Smartphones were invented in the middle of the 2008 campaign, all this has revolutionised how we do politics, Steve Jobs, head of Apple, had said to me that people will do everything from their smartphone — he was right, so we built a campaign that changed the way you do politics.”
The role of media, he said, is very crucial as during elections there is complete coverage of the campaign, that it sometimes becomes more important than the TV advertisements and other publicity activities.
“The issue across the world, is how big the filter is. When I grew up in the US there were three TV channels that defined news… now there are over 15 different pieces of the pie every night; if you are young you get most of your information from the internet, if you are older you still read the newspaper — getting a message through 15 different funnels every night to a swing voter has become one of the biggest challenges.”
He noted that is why Obama does many things outside the traditional news media, such as a Google+ hangout and answering questions on different websites, Messina said that this was to “get out of the media filter and have direct access to swing voters and that is what governments have to do, tools like Twitter and Facebook are just more tools to get more directly to people past the filter.”
Harris and Messina were asked at the end of the session about what advice they would give to Arab leaders in the post Arab spring, they both agreed on the importance of being fast and proactive.
“Make sure that you go back and correct things if they are wrong… making sure that things are clarified, do not let things rest … go out and correct the stories,” Harris said. She added that a strong relationship with the media and a “two-way flow of information”, and having good key spokespeople who can clearly articulate the government’s message are important.
Messina summed up his advice in three words,“clarity, speed and reach”. He explained that you have to go where people are because the days of press releases and dictation are gone, and one has to have” a multiplatform ability to go and talk to people where they are, not where you want them to be.”