Ready for Hillary: Inside the Content Strategy of a Clinton PAC
It should have been the perfect campaign. When Hillary Clinton was in the running to be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in 2008, she had momentum, big donors, party influence and well-branded name. Her presidency seemed so inevitable to her backers that a primary campaign hardly seemed necessary. When a social media-savvy newcomer walked away with both the nomination and the presidency, legions of her campaigners were left aghast and heartbroken.
The ravenous fans of the self-proclaimed pantsuit aficionado have spent the past five years plotting a course correction. To rewrite the Clinton campaign with an alternate ending, they’d need to not only recreate the grassroots, social media-based enthusiasm of the Obama campaign, but also box out any would-be surprise challengers. And they’d need to start good and early.
The answer so far, at least according to the political action committee Ready for Hillary, is a focused stream of image-heavy content with a simple, strategic message: We’re ready for Hillary Clinton 2016.
Photo via the Ready for Hillary Facebook Page
While November 2016 may seem eons away, the PAC has been filling its social media channels with content since November of 2012. And good luck finding a single Facebook post that isn’t a photo, Hillary-focused meme or link to existing content — with a large thumbnail of Clinton attached. Other than retweets and event chatter, original tweets follow the same trend, and, naturally, are even more numerous on Tumblr and Instagram.
Captions are brief, and the images of Ready for Hillary’s dream candidate all fall into a few select categories: nostalgic photos of the Clinton trio, candid shots with world leaders, inspirational memes, and pics of her supporters, dressed in Ready for Hillary swag, attending Ready for Hillary events and being, all around, super ready for Hillary.
Saying Just Enough
“I don’t know about you, but I get numb pretty quickly reading copy anymore,” said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO and Principal of Lansing, Mich.-based political communications firm Truscott Rossman. “At this point, all you need are images of Hillary with important people and Hillary doing important things. What she’s done in her career has already built a substantial case for her as a candidate.”
The last thing Ready for Hillary wants are Clinton supporters going numb 30-some months before election day. And while images help sidestep the fact that there isn’t too much new to say about the former first lady, senator and secretary of state, it also helps avoid the equally perilous trap of saying too much too soon.
“It is way too early in a presidential run to get into issues,” Rossman-McKinney said. “You also have to really limit who is going to run against her in a primary.”
That is, saying too much about a particular issue could give potential challengers opportunities to attack her candidacy before it even gets off the ground. And no one who was rooting for Clinton in 2008 needs a reminder about what a surprise primary challenge looks like.
That’s not the only lesson Ready for Hillary seems to be taking from that major upset.
“I’m going to speculate that they took several pages from the highly successful Obama campaign,” Rossman-McKinney said. “They used social media extensively and aggressively in their run. From what I can see, Ready for Hillary is following that philosophy, which is to engage early and often.”
An image-based strategy leaves plenty of room for Hillary fans to be a part of the campaign. On Tumblr and Instagram in particular, photos of supporters at events or showing off their bumper stickers and buttons are easy to find, displaying a grassroots effort experts have noted was missing from her 2008 bid.
“The beauty of the Ready for Hillary PAC is it’s truly…organic,” said Rossman-McKinney. “It’s springing from her supporters.”
Staking a Candidacy Claim
Upon close inspection, the carefully curated images found on Ready for Hillary’s social media channels all have something in common, which are what Rossman-McKinney sees as the two core messages of the PAC’s campaign: Hillary’s name and the year 2016.
“To have it be as successful as it is says that there is a great deal of pent-up support for Hillary the individual,” she said, noting that even the website’s first recommended donation level is $20.16. “It’s not ‘we’re ready for a woman.’ It’s about her. It’s beyond impressive.”
By staking such a specific claim so early on, Ready for Hillary is making it clear to everyone that the seat has already been long taken.
“They’re making it clear to other Democrats who may be considering a run: Don’t even try,” Rossman-McKinney said. “This early on, the strategy is to keep other folks out of the mix.”
Certainly, as 2016 approaches — and if/when Clinton actually announces her run — the time to say more will be on Ready for Hillary, in addition to the candidate herself. Until then, an image-rich campaign seems to be a clever way to keep the momentum building and stave off any mischief makers considering an Obama-style upset.
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