Announcement rallies in the digital age?

The contrast between two Senate hopefuls builds a case for the digital rollout 

The traditional announcement rollout has long been campaign bread and butter, during which a bevy of public appearances, grandiose speeches, and press conferences tout a candidate’s entry into the field of whatever office he or she is seeking.

Recent history, though, could well indicate that the digital age of American politics is heralding a new approach to what’s long been seen as a traditional ritual.

Take a look at two recent announcements for the U.S. Senate, one in Kentucky, one in Georgia, and both by Democrats in states the party hopes will be in play next year, albeit both facing longshot odds.

In Kentucky, Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes declared her challenge to Mitch McConnell with the tried and true presser kickoff, and met mediocre reviews from armchair quarterbacks on both sides of the aisle.

Kicking off over half an hour after its originally billed time, and without a new campaign logo in sight, Grimes announced for Senate in the backdrop of a Secretary of State logo.

A brief speech allowed time for but two questions from the press, transforming a rising star’s hyped announcement into the perfect opportunity for Republicans to play the amateur hour card, which they did with great success.

Shots across the bow weren’t just leveled at the traditional side of the campaign’s rollout. A digital element was near-nonexistent, lacking a website, social media presence, or an ad blanket to increase the announcement’s reach.

Since that time, Grimes has still yet to formally “kickoff” her campaign, releasing a 3-minute web video saying that would be coming this week, a move that could’ve potentially been avoided had the original decision garnered better reviews.

Granted, most political hacks would agree that this represents a traditional rollout of the worst sort, that instance in which practically everything that could be negatively critiqued is negatively critiqued.

Yet the contrasting success of another Democrat’s announcement for Senate, Georgia’s Michelle Nunn, further calls into question the need for the traditional-style announcement in the digital age.

Rather than announce with a sign-laden rally, topped with flesh-pressing photo ops, she instead offered a low-key heads up via interview, issued a press release, and then blanketed the social media waves the to launch her campaign, bookended by an interview with a metro-Atlanta news outlet.

Republican or Democrat, most will tell you the contrast was palpable.

Nunn’s calculated social media launch, buoyed by a barrage of digital ads unmatched by candidates on either side of the aisle in Georgia’s Senate contest, was met with near-universal praise and garnered several thousand “likes” and “follows” within days.

Those numbers don’t win elections, but do give an aura of immediate support that simply can’t be achieved through traditional means.  

Furthermore, as the Grimes/Nunn contrast goes to show, the digital-based rollout presents campaigns with a greater ability to control the message.

Any substance that may have been present in Grimes’s remarks was lost amid what appeared a total lack of preparation, embodied in the aforementioned late start, lack of a campaign logo, and utterly minimal online presence.

Nunn dictated the terms of her initial impression with a 20-paragraph release and social media presence tailored to present the message her campaign sought to push, topped by the more controlled setting of two on-on-one interviews.

Most Republican observers, this one included, feel that neither Grimes nor Nunn stand much chance of emerging triumphant in next year’s contests, but there’s a lot to be gleaned from examining their respective announcements.

This is especially the case for Georgia Republicans, who are facing a changing state likely to drip shades of purple come 2016 or 2018. Crafting a winning digital strategy now while the deck is still stacked red is vital, the urgency of which must be expedited to beat back Nunn’s attempts at pulling her party out of the doldrums.

Brandon Howell is an account director at Hynes Communications and a contributor to the Peach State political blog Georgia Tipsheet.

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