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Romney’s for a better 'Amercia' gaffe in the age of social media

In 1979 my brother, Gerald Harvey, hired the Public Relation firm Harvey & Company to manage his maiden run for a seat on the Macon, Ga., City Council. Harvey & Company was comprised of this writer and an afro-haired young lady with a pretty smile, who several years later would become this writer’s spouse.

Our first assignment was to draft a press release announcing our brash young candidate would challenge an entrenched incumbent.

I put a sheet of paper in the Smith-Corona typewriter. It spit out a one page announcement of the challenge. I was anxious to drop it off to the two television stations, the one radio outlet with black programming and the two local newspapers. By the next day everybody in town who mattered would know that Gerald Harvey was in the race.

The lady with the pretty smile said “not so fast, we can’t send that release out it has a few typos and misspelled words and look here, surely you didn’t mean to say it this way.”

So we slowed down and re-wrote the press release late into the night, until both of us had a public announcement that not only put our best foot forward, but also cast our candidate in the best professional light as possible.

The following morning, proud of the work we had done, I hand delivered the press release to the various media outlets. I recall that when Ed Knudsen, city editor at the old Macon Telegraph read the press release he said, “Wow, now that is a good public service.”

I knew we could expect good coverage because the city editor looked upon a challenge to the incumbent as a service to the public.

We planned fund-raisers, coordinated a group of volunteers, and prepared a campaign brochure to be distributed everywhere the candidate went. The brochure was the primary means of getting the candidate’s message out to the public.

“A good brochure is good as gold,” Rev. Julius C. Hope, told me in 1975 when I managed his mayoral campaign. “You got to have a good brochure if the people are going to take you serious,” Hope would often say.

Just in case we had enough money for radio spots we created several radio commercials. We lobbied Norm Nixon, who came home a hero the summer of ’79, as a member of the NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers, to cut one of the commercials for our candidate. He did, and the public automatically favored the celebrity endorsement.

Money for television was simply out of the question in those days in local elections and was reserved for candidates for mayor, governor, or a congressional office.

In the last quarter of the 20th century we had to prepare our candidate for several community forums where he would get to shake hands with the electorate and answer their questions. Then we prepped the candidate for a televised debate and a meeting with the editorial board of the daily newspaper.

In the closing days of this campaign the polls told us we were running neck-and-neck with the incumbent. We needed to get a few more people interested in turning out for our candidate. We were out of money; the last radio commercial was set to run two days before the election, and we had 36 brochures left in the campaign headquarters.

So we targeted a neighborhood that had not been worked. We went door to door and disturbed those brochures.

We won the election by 36 votes.

In the second decade of the 21st century, I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen a campaign brochure extolling the virtues of a political candidate. They are a thing of the past.

In the days before the information superhighway was born, such are the things that political campaigns did to communicate their message to the public. They relied upon the mass media to influence the public on their behalf.

What is now in; is a presence on social media. The likes of Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube and Facebook are the more popular social media outlets in the age of social connectivity in cyberspace.

Today the old Macon Telegraph, which was a Knight-Ridder paper then, still publishes a newspaper seven days a week, but it no longer goes by the name of the Macon Telegraph. It is now a McClatchy paper and in an age of dwindling newspaper readership where more and more people get their news by reading status reports on their friends Facebook wall, the name has been changed to simply The Telegraph to reflect that it is the newspaper for the entire Middle Georgia region, thus bulking up its circulation numbers for its advertisers.

Not only has social media changed the delivery of the news, it has changed how politicians communicate with their constituencies. Today’s politician like any good business person has cut out the middle man and through the use of social media can broadcast their message directly to the voters.

The smart money this political season is not how much television air time you can buy up, but how many times can you get your commercial shared around sundry social media sites. A manual on how to go viral on the internet is in every campaign manager’s tool kit; if not, it should be. A much better media placement today is a creative YouTube video placed with a few political friends who then share it with their social media connections.

In 2008 a relatively unknown senator with a funny sounding name took on the Democratic Party establishment by working the Internet, and when he showed up for a public appearance, it seemed that large crowds sprang up out of nowhere. That nowhere was literally cyberspace. He had mastered the art of building relationships towards his cause through social media and was gaining strength in numbers before anyone knew he was a serious contender for the Oval Office.

Bob Dylan predicted in the age of my innocence, “Times they are a changing.” Times have indeed changed. Newspapers, radio stations and television networks will never again be the primary delivery vehicles for information. The Internet is the new media network and its political application is limited only by the mental limits placed upon it by political operatives.

Thus the role of social media in the 2012 presidential campaign can not be measured in importance. For better or for worst the slightest gaffe by either candidate can and will be broadcast to millions of people before the spin doctors have a chance to develop a strategy for damage control. In a close election, which all major polls indicate the 2012 presidential election is, a slight gaffe could sink a candidacy.

For example had Harvey & Company released the press release with the typos, the media outlets in the culture of the 1970s would have made the necessary corrections before publishing or broadcasting it . The message of the candidate was in essence the message of the medium and the grammar reflected on the publisher because no member of the public would know where the initial mistake had occurred.

But when a candidate in this century resorts to using a social media application like the iPhone APP that the Romney campaign recently launched, a mistake cannot be easily corrected before millions of people learn first hand that you are running to create “A Better Amercia,” wherever that is. Perhaps, Romney’s plan to balance the budget and stimulate job growth on the backs of the poor and middle class will work just fine in the land of Amercia. Americans similarly situated can blow a collective sigh of relief that the homeland, America, will be undaunted by what happens on Amercia.

Oh, the fun that "Saturday Night Live" will have. It can be lampooned that one who does not pay attention to little things can not be counted upon to pay attention to bigger issues of state. What if a crucial time arises and Romney needs to punch in the code to nuke an adversary, but in doing so he missed a digit or two? Then once the "Saturday Night Live" parody airs over its television network, it will be uploaded onto YouTube and live in infamy through Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Such is the political status of social media and he or she who would be president must master it or go down to defeat at the hands of the operatives who can master this new medium of communication.

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