Candidates, if I were your press secretary . . .


This Republican primary I’m working with 10 of our candidates on their advertising. Some of them chose to answer The Citizen’s questions for the online forum, some did not. While I’ve had my say in a lot of their advertising strategy, I’d like to approach them, and the other candidates, with some media advice from a professional.

First, a little about my credentials. I got my degree in communications, with a minor in journalism. I specialized in advertising and P.R., and I’ve worked in public relations, corporate communications and advertising for the last nine years, the last six at The Citizen.

But suppose I didn’t work for The Citizen. Suppose I worked directly for you, the candidate. If I were your press secretary, I’d advise you to always answer the media’s questions.

If you don’t answer or say, “No comment,” you look like you’re hiding something, even if your integrity is impeccable.

Today, you can expect that your campaign will take you online. Every article The Citizen and any other major regional or national newspaper publishes goes into their online version. offers instant reader feedback. While some bloggers may spout racist vitriol or ugly rumors, the majority are intelligent readers engaging in witty repartee and thoughtful commentary. You and the other readers can fathom the difference between the two.

So what happens when you decide to avoid instant comments? You lose your own opportunity to answer the nay-sayers. Your voice is the strongest one you have on your own benefit. No one can play in your band like you can. Leaving the amphitheater doesn’t improve your music, it’s just fewer people hearing your song.

In some ways, The Citizen was very generous. Rather than calling you up and blind-siding you with questions, you were given the opportunity to provide thoughtful responses. When is the last time they did that for President Bush at a press conference?

From a public relations standpoint, this was an incredible opportunity — a chance to put exactly what you want to say on a site with nearly 70,000 local unique visitors each month.

A website like is the synergy of the Freedom of Speech and the Freedom of the Press. When Thomas Paine wrote his revolutionary pamphlets, they were anonymous. So are the postings on blogs.

As a politician, it’s good for you to know what these folks are thinking, even if they are way off base. How you respond to criticism is a good meter by which others will measure your temperament and character. How you answer a difficult, even personal, question with grace shows a measure of your wisdom and transparency.

While it may be too late to change the response that some of you made to The Citizen’s queries, maybe you can reconsider for the future. Newspapers were made to ask tough questions. Politicians should answer them; at least, that’s what I’d advise ... if I were your press secretary.

[Ellie White-Stevens is an advertising consultant for The Citizen Newspapers in Fayetteville, Ga.]

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