Bloomberg’s fall, Biden’s rise show why earned media matters

“You’re riding high in April, shot down in May,”- Frank Sinatra, “That’s Life.”

Look no further than the Democratic primary for proof, albeit in February and March.

Michael Bloomberg, the multi-billionaire entrepreneur and former New York City mayor,  reportedly spent nearly a half billion dollars on media in his quest for the presidency. His ads were good, and I liked his positions on the issues so I decided to support him.

I went to the opening of his Long Island campaign office. It was packed and there was campaign swag and free food galore.

Bloomberg office opening
Opening day at Mike Bloomberg’s Long Island field office.

But soon after, we learned he didn’t have the right stuff. His performance in his first debate was a disaster. The other candidates went after him over his support for stop-and-frisk policing as mayor and his conduct toward some of Bloomberg’s female employees. On Super Tuesday (March 3), the only primary he won was American Samoa. The next day he dropped out.

There’s an old adage in marketing: Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.

Joe Biden is the flip side of this coin. An early front-runner, he stumbled in the debates and made some guffaws that led pundits to wonder whether the former Vice President was losing some of his mental faculties. He had little to spend on media and didn’t even have field offices in some of the Super Tuesday states.

However, a few days before Super Tuesday, Biden won the South Carolina primary in a landslide with 48.7 percent of the vote. He bested second place finisher Bernie Sanders by almost 19 points.

Although the Palmetto State was a “firewall” that he had – and was likely – to win, the Biden vote greatly exceeded expectations. That was partly due to an endorsement from powerful South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, which generated much favorable earned media.

The primary win garnered more positive press. So did the endorsements he received after the primary  from Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klochubar and Beto O’Rourke.

Biden sailed into Super Tuesday with a strong tailwind of favorable coverage. He won ten of the 14 states that held their primaries that day and built a comfortable lead over front-runner Sanders. The wins generated even more positive earned media, and Biden took five of the six primaries held the following week.

In less than a week, Joe Biden changed the conversation about himself and the race for President. His story offers testimony to the power of earned media and why it is a better investment than advertising.

It doesn’t come free, though. Biden built relations with different constituencies over decades by listening to and addressing their concerns. As Rep. Clyburn said in making his endorsement, “We know Joe. But, most importantly, Joe knows us.” And, bad press or negative social media posts damages reputations.

Public relations is just that: building and managing relations with the public. It should be part of every business or not-for-profit’s marketing strategy.

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