What Marketers Could Learn…

The devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy and the closely matched figures in the voting polls in the lead up to the 2012 Presidential election were responsible for some of the most interesting marketing campaigns and PR opportunities in recent history. The magnitude of both the election campaign and the careful development of PR opportunities surrounding the handling of Hurricane Sandy can offer modern marketers a great deal to learn from. From community engagement to the handling of major disasters, marketers witnessed how different government and support organizations, community organizations, and people in general were able to deal with dramatic events and developments. Once again, Social Media played an enormous role in engaging an audience both to recruit help for those in need and to create an outreach for citizens to vote and to be heard.



For the 2012 Election, the use of social media allowed both parties to engage with younger audiences, multicultural communities and acted as a powerful tool for allowing passionate individuals to influence those close to them. From engaging large audiences, managing reputations and instilling excitement and enthusiasm among citizens, the 2012 Presidential Campaign has given marketers a huge amount to consider. The message was clear: if you want to succeed, you need to be in touch with your community of constituents or prospective constituents. Other factors to consider are:

  • Engage your community early – Don’t wait until the last minute to ask them for something. This was very evident with the Romney Campaign – the level of engagement was nowhere near the level of social, mobile and local engagement by the Obama campaign.
  • Pay forward and give back before you ask for something in return.
  • Trust your data. Early poll data and the analytics based assumptions proved to be an important guide for the Obama Campaign analysts. They were able to supplement this data with Exit poll data and direct their resources and communications towards the areas needing more emphasis while tracking sentiment for the independent and swing state voters.


The natural disaster, Sandy also offered a different communications opportunity for a country looking for stability. Statistics show that the effects of Sandy and the way the disaster was handled by the Obama Administration had beneficial implications. For example, New Jersey voters, when faced with major challenges in getting to the polls in the wake of wide devastation, voted solidly for the president, giving him the state’s 14 electoral votes. They also re-elected U.S Sen. Robert Mendendez (D-N-J), who publicly appeared with the President and Governor Christie immediately after the Hurricane, causing the Democrats to increase their majority in the Senate.


Another example of a successful PR opportunity created by the power of social media was the handling of the NYC Marathon by Mayor Bloomberg. The outreach and the outpouring of mixed but mostly negative sentiment that was visible through social media channels was enough for the Mayor and NYRR (New York Road Runners) to cancel the event. However, NYRR volunteers and runners themselves seized the opportunity and ran over to Staten Island to deliver water, supplies and much needed help to the citizens in need. This underlines the value of an organization intimately involved with the Marathon. The NYC Marathon brand was saved and the PR disaster averted in two single actions.  The first was to cancel the event and the second was to use the resources of the organization behind it to help those in need. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer told TODAY that his first priority was to help people who lost their homes and who are missing loved ones. Among some of the mixed Twitter responses available are tweets from prominent figures in the public eye, marathon runners and New Yorkers.



The question marketers need to ask is ‘What can we learn from such intensive, mass scale marketing practices and unexpected PR opportunities?’


Know Your Audience

One of the key lessons that marketers should take away from the election campaign and the aftermath of Sandy is the ability to know your audience and to engage them through their preferred method of communication. Content is of huge importance but having fans and followers isn’t enough- successful marketers must be able to engage their followers. Statistics from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project Civic Engagement Survey, 2012 showed that younger voters were much more likely to engage with political information that was available in social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. This engagement is clear through the promoting and reposting of material or posting individual thoughts on political issues.


Marketers must realise that in order to increase engagement across social networks, it is essential to create content that focuses on the interests of the audience and engages with this younger and very important age group.



Recognizing Audience Interests and Engaging

Data shows that Social Media was a hotbed of activity in the build-up to the Presidential election. This activity continued in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The key thing for marketers to note is the amount of passion that is channelled through social media. Politics clearly displayed itself across social networks as a topic that members of the public are extremely passionate about, as did the destruction caused by Sandy which helped to bring a politically disunited America more closely together.   Marketers need to recognise new ways of reaching out to these passionate users. Suggestions include a simple and catchy phrase or hashtags that will infiltrate the necessary channels and target audiences.

But using hashtags and catchy phrases is only one of the many tactical approaches – they need to be backed up by sold actions, events and outreach programs which are both genuine and broadly reaching.

Mashable provide an interesting article that offers information on Instagram’s recent record for most photographed event- Sandy. The same can be said about Hurricane Sandy and social media networks such as Facebook and Pinterest. However what is really amazing is the amount of attention that the election received, with over 20 million related twitter posts. Some social media users even uploaded photos of their ballots which is actually illegal in the states of Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, Texas and West Virginia, where the law bans photography or videography in polling places, according to the Citizen Media Law Project.


Always Be Prepared

Engaging your audience is important but there will always be people who disagree with your message. Therefore it is essential that criticism is dealt with in the correct manner. Marketers should anticipate criticism beforehand and prepare to defend themselves or their cause. Both Romney and Obama received a great deal of negative comments on social media sites. According to Pew Research, out of all the platforms they studied, including blogs and mainstream news channels, Twitter housed the most negative commentary.  One of the most important lessons that can be learned from the 2012 US election campaign is to be prepared to rally your supporters to and to defend your brand when harshly criticized.



What We Have Learned


The 2012 Presidential Election campaign and the handling of Sandy embodied a range of important marketing methods including social media networking, televised debates, in depth market research and the all important human touch. Never under estimate the importance of thanking your followers, responding to tweets or posts and always reach out to each audience by focussing on their individual passions and interests. Make sure that you engage your community early and always give back before you ask for something in return. Listen to your data and trust you social media management tools. These tools can tell you where you are doing well and will show you where you should be investing your resources. Finally, never underestimate the power of social. The transitioning of the NYRR from a regular club of runners to a major disaster relief organization due to complaints and lobbying through social media channels; is the perfect example of the growing strength of social networking.