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Is it democratic heresy to wonder aloud if televised debates in our country’s Presidential race really matter? 

Last night’s Obama/McCain debate was a major political and historic event.  So, of course, these things matter.  Ever since the “five-o’clock shadow” Nixon v. the “fresh as a rose” Kennedy debate more than 35 years ago, conventional thinking is that these televised events actually help American’s choose who they want as their next President.  Recently, I wonder.

Is it the debate itself that infleunces the ultimate “purchase decision” in politics – the vote?  Or, is it the post-debate, pervasive-to-the-point-of-invasive, 24/7, multi-channel, analysis and dissection that really matters?  Which has greater influence on the most potential voters – the debate itself between political party nominated candidates, or the after-debate “debate” among anchors, commentators, analysts, experts, specialists, bloggers, and more?

My thought:  Of course these debates still matter!  They matter so much precisely because of the post-debate, pervasive-to-the-point-of-invasive, 24/7, multi-channel, analysis and dissection.  It’s now part of the game. 

We may lament the fact that our Presidential contests since the 60s increasingly place form over substance and that emerging technologies are the reason why.  But, we also know that data-sharing and impression-making happens nearly instantaneously these days and is no longer filtered through traditional media.

Form over substance is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as substance is still there.  Nearly every past President remarks at how shallow and substance-lacking Presidential contests have become.  Without question, though, this year’s candidates and earlier Presidents have all, in their own ways, been experienced, serious and substantive leaders.

So, I think these televised debates do still matter so long as the candidates understand how to take advantage during the show of the after-show that may matter even more.

At Vehr Communications, and through our blog Vr3, we think about these things and hope you do as well.

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We’re excited to join the conversation. 

The connections between PR and politics – on many different levels – makes this one of the most fascinating times in history for our country, for all strategic communications professionals, and for all of us at Vehr Communications.

Our Country:

There has never been a more exciting presidential election in our lifetime.  As a country at war abroad and in financial turmoil at home, it also may be the most important.

From an historical communications perspective, it will always be the first presidential campaign of the Web 2.0 world.  1996, 2000 and 2004 were influenced by the Web, each more profoundly than the one prior.  But, no campaign has ever relied as much on the Web for shaping and managing reputations and developing and maintaining relationships like the Obama campaign.  That, of course, is pushing the McCain campaign which, in turn raises the stakes for both. 

It is too soon to know what influence it will actually have on results – the “purchase decision” – votes cast for either ticket.  Here’s betting the influence is dramatic.  And, the use of the Web this November will only jumpstart its influence beyond politics post November 4.

Strategic Communications Professionals: We’re just gonna learn a ton.  Both campaigns are breaking new ground.  The thousands of other candidate and issue campaigns here and around the country are pushing their own envelopes. 

  • We’ll know more after November than before about handhelds as a tool to influence consumer decision-making. 
  • We’ll have a better sense for the value of monitoring blogs to preserve, protect and promote a corporation’s or a brand’s reputation.
  • The light and heat of a presidential campaign have pushed the limits of online donations – just imagine what non-profits can learn to raise $ for their mission.
  • Of course, the list is nearly endless.

At Vehr Communications:

We hope we’re like all the other PR folks out there.  We’re soaking things up like sponges and considering applications for our clients.  Here’s a few thoughts:

Despite the speed and scale of “relating” online, we’re betting that:

  • Authenticity and relevance will still drive the purchase decision.
  • Solid strategy with disciplined execution will win out over shock and flash (awe?).
  • Decision timeframes will be shortened by enhanced access to information and opinions.
  • The need to be in the conversation – or at least aware of it – will be more and more important.

Curious of other thoughts.  We like politics because it is great learning/training for communications professionals.  Every campaign, no matter the size, requires, tests and hones skills in strategic thinking, marketing, crisis communications, media relations, community relations, collateral material development, and more.

More important, we also think it is important for our country and community.