Election Night Communication: How to Talk to the Media and Supporters
October 30, 2020
Election night communication comes down to one moment on the campaign’s final day.
There’s no overtime or extra innings, this is it, the moment you’ve tirelessly worked towards since deciding to run.
No matter what happens, your election night communication should speak to the hard work you and your team put forward.
Once the polls close and the results start coming in, you’re bound to feel a rush of emotions. This is not the time to start thinking about what to say to the media, your donors, or your voters.
Preparing for Election Night
Plan ahead, and prepare statements for each possible outcome, curating them for the specific audience you’re addressing.
You should also consider how to deliver your election night communication. Traditionally, candidates speak to a ballroom of supporters with the media present. During a pandemic, you may speak to a small room of press and limited supporters, or take press calls for comment while posting on social media.
The important part is to have a plan and prepare statements in advance of Election Day.
There are three possible outcomes for your race: win, lose, or stalemate.
It’s hard to imagine, but you may not know the outcome of the vote on election night. If ballots remain to be counted and your race is close, this will delay the final outcome.
So, how you message about this delay is as important as whether you’re giving a victory speech or concession speech.
The Tone and Feel of Election Night Communication
Regardless of outcome or audience, your tone should encompass grace, gratitude, and ongoing momentum.
Grace is a mindset. Make it intentional whether you win, lose, or must wait for an answer.
You’ve undoubtedly been the subject of attack ads and ugly messages. While it seems refreshing to cast blame or express ill-feelings, grace takes you further in the eyes of those watching.
Gratitude is about saying thank you to everyone who supported you in this journey. The feeling of gratitude fills people up and comforts.
Momentum signals that we must look beyond the moment. This allows us to follow next steps towards our goal. It calls us to transition together, so we may continue to work on behalf of our communities.
Know Your Audience
There are three primary audiences to address on election night: the media, your donors, and your voters.
Tell Your Story for the Media
All members of the media want to tell a story. You need to package that story as you want it told. Use the media as your storyteller. Your comments should be succinct and delivered in the easiest way possible for reporters to distribute.
You want to win, and so do we. If you win on election night, the media will reach out for comment on the big win. The question will probably be, “How are you feeling?”
Your emotions might drive you to respond with, “Amazing!” But, that doesn’t tell a story. And, since you’re preparing ahead of time, you’ll know exactly what to say to make your narrative stick. This is the story you want told to your constituency.
Grace in victory is as important as grace in defeat. Gratitude not only for those who helped the campaign, but for your opponent as well. Take in the moment and finish by going forward and assuring everyone you’re ready to get to work.
No one runs to lose. And, where there is a winner in a contest, someone must lose. Don’t let the story you tell paint you in a negative light . The best way to avoid this is to not tell a negative story in the event of a loss.
Ensure your story is graceful by congratulating your opponent on their victory. Display gratitude by thanking everyone who helped you along the way and voted. Affirm your integrity and determination by detailing how and what you will do going forward.
If your race is undecided and the press wants a comment, it’s important your statement recognizes that you remain hopeful. At this moment, you believe every vote matters and should be counted. And when the results are final, you will accept the outcome. Remember: grace, gratitude, and going forward.
Keep Your Donors Motivated
Remember, all your statements are public. Even without consent, your words can be reported by the media. Do not say anything to donors or voters that you wouldn’t want printed in the paper or posted online.
Donors are motivated by various factors. They could have a personal relationship with you, believe in your message, share similar values, or have an ax to grind.
Whatever motivated your donors to give, the fact remains they did. They saw you as a good investment, and if you win on Election Day, they win on Election Day. Let them know they are part of the victory.
If you are not victorious, your donors will not regret their support. They believed in you and will continue to do so in the future.
Communicating to donors with grace and gratitude, while communicating next steps going forward can help retain support.
If you’re in a stalemate at the end of the night, don’t wait for the outcome to address them. Give them an assessment of the situation. Thank them for everything they’ve done over the course of your campaign. Be knowledgeable about the timeline, and steps that will be taken to finalize the election.
Bring Your Voters With You
There are many more people who voted for you than individual donors. These people chose you, literally!
A victory speech is the easiest to deliver, and conversely, the concession speech is the most difficult. There is a special feeling associated with someone casting their vote for you. Use this opportunity to deepen your relationship with the people you will serve or perhaps will serve when you run again. Your message of grace, gratitude, and going forward matters most in this moment.
They were either in your camp from the beginning or were persuaded by your message. If your race is close and not decided on election night, give them the same message as your donors in your election night communication.
Educate them on the process and express gratitude for each and every person who voted. Ensure them you want every vote counted. These are the people who will be directly impacted if you represent them.
Grace, Gratitude, and Going Forward
There is nothing like a campaign. Even if we had an infinite amount of volunteers or money, the one thing we never get more of is time.
Election Day might feel like the end. But, as far as your election night communications, you need to see it as a beginning. It’s the beginning of what comes next. Will you be sworn in and serve the people? Or, will you return to serving in other ways? Will you run again in 2 years, 4 years, or more? Those aren’t decisions that have to be made on election night, but it is the night to seize those possibilities.
The words you choose, the attitude you adopt, and the message you deliver, regardless of outcome, will make a difference.
On November 9, 2016, Hillary Clinton said, “Our campaign was never about one person or even one election. It was about the country we love and about building an America that’s hopeful, inclusive, and big-hearted. We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought, but I still believe in America and I always will.”
A message of grace, gratitude, and going forward.
Communications is Key
These lessons can help you after the election as well.
If you’ve won, these lessons are great for solidifying your message and communicating to constituents as you transition into office.
If you concede defeat, they will prepare you for success in your next steps, no matter where your path leads.
Keep in mind that rapid response and making quick decisions in the moment can be a talent. But, more often than not, it’s a skill.
Dive deeper in communications with our 4-minute read on How to Deliver Your Campaign Message in a Crisis.
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