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Presidential Candidates and Incident Management: Do you need a plan?

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One candidate in your place of business means dozens of staff, supporters and journalists too

The 2016 presidential primary cycle begins immediately after the mid-term election this November.  Expect no fewer than 10 – and as many as 16 men and women making the rounds, with formal announcements of candidacies beginning in early 2015 and campaign activities escalating with a crescendo in January through early February of 2016.

Making the rounds may sound like simple retail politics, but in reality it requires a series of carefully scripted events planned well in advance – even more so if the trend of Iowa-heavy campaigning continues (see New Hampshire Business Review for an interesting tally): when in NH every candidate will have to make each stop count.

Imagine 16 candidates plus their high-level surrogates campaigning within the state at once: each would require 584 square miles of territory.  (In 2007 John Edwards and Fred Thompson campaigned within a mile of each other in my town of Stratham; that both events succumbed to the same gigantic afternoon thunderstorm suggested that God was either bipartisan or unhappy with both of them.)

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Ted Cruz and Rand Paul New Hampshire 2014

What to do within the confines of 584 square miles? A successful New Hampshire – based company, perhaps one with exports or one that is part of an international supply chain will be considered too good to be true for presidential candidates.

Advance teams have one master: their candidate.  They will blast in and occupy your time.  And every post-event landscape is littered with detritus that has to be cleaned up by the people they leave behind.  The key is to be prepared. Your company must operate with One Clear Voice, both internally and externally:

  1. anticipate and prepare for the photo-op/tour/stump speech request
  2. manage the incident (visit and media) appropriately

 

Left unmanaged incidents can become crises.  Both can interrupt your organization to one degree or another.

So, form a C-suite team to establish policy and procedures.  Include public relations on your team and answer the following questions:

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January 2008 Mitt Romney Campaign Rally by Brian Rawson-Ketchum

  • With respect to acting as a stopover for a candidate campaign, what are your stakeholder (employee, shareholder) expectations?
  • Is a candidate campaign stop an opportunity for your employees, company, or brand?
  • What will be your policy for candidate visits? Yes or no?
  • Regardless of your final decision about the above bullet, who will be the point of contact – who will respond to visit queries?
  • If yes, how will you manage the incident with minimal or no disruption to the organization?
  • If no, how do you communicate your policy?
  • What elements of media relations are important to lay out and identify?

There is no single right way – different companies have dealt with these incidents differently.   I’ve done my share of events and candidate advance, and from 1994 through 1999 learned from the best White House advance team ever.

Identify your goals, develop your plan, and map out your approach.

If it’s not on paper you don’t have a plan.

 

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