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Sarah Palin: PR Genius?

A post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

Speaking from a PR perspective (not necessarily my political point of view) I’ve found myself struck by Sarah Palin’s media presence this week. In fact, I can’t escape the media attention being paid to Sarah Palin lately. Although she is not officially running for office, does not currently hold public office (or any job) and is not starring in a reality TV show, she is all over the place.  She is touring the country by bus, but in actuality I think she is filling a void and the media’s dreaded dead air time before Republican party candidates get serious. As much as they complain about and mock her, the media is following her every move.

Here’s how she gets their attention:

  • Relying on the element of surprise – while other attention-seeking candidates share their every move with the media ahead of time, Palin does not. She even goes so far as to trick the media who are following her in order to slip away from them.
  • Scorning the media (they’ll cover her anyway) – According to the New York Times, Palin used “her bus as a decoy at the back entrance of a hotel in Pennsylvania so she could slip out a side entrance” and “[used] a Sarah Palin impersonator in Boston and instruct[ed] her to ‘go talk to all these reporters’ on her behalf.” (Take note, Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen.)
  • Rather than rely on traditional media, become the media – As Michelle Cottle wrote about Palin in her piece in The New Republic last summer,

“She is a prolific and passionate tweeter. Her Facebook page overflows with thoughts on global events both past (DDay, Reagan’s Brandenburg Gate speech) and present (Israel, border security, the need to drill, baby, drill); Of course, unlike other categories of the rich and famous, political celebs (especially populist firebrands) cannot risk being seen as remote or out of touch. But here’s where Palin’s embrace of new media saves the day. Her perky, quirky tweets and chatty Facebook items make her fans feel as though they have a direct line to her—despite the oft-voiced assumption that Palin (like so many pols) does not write most (if any) of her own Facebook posts. Such is the beauty of social networking: It allows a public figure to avoid direct interaction with the public while promoting the illusion of personal connection and involvement.”

Cottle summarized Palin’s other PR strategies in last year’s article for The New Republic,

“Her byline pops up now and again in the opinion pages (supporting McCain, bashing enviros). She periodically hits the campaign trail with favored candidates. She is a prolific and passionate tweeter. Her Facebook page overflows with … news of upcoming appearances (a rally at the Lincoln Memorial with Glenn Beck, a possible U.K. jaunt to meet Margaret Thatcher); the latest media atrocities committed against her; and her rolling endorsements of “commonsense conservative” candidates who tickle her fancy. And, any day now, filming is scheduled to start on the docu-travelogue series in which Palin will “bring the wonder and majesty of Alaska” to TLC viewers.

  • And, of course, avoiding “gotcha” interviews and remainig in control – Palin rarely sits down with non-conservative interviewers. (She seems to have BFF status with Greta Van Susteren of Fox News, with whom she frequently grants interviews.) And, according to Cottle, Palin “eschews mix-’em-up formats pitting her viewpoint against that of a more liberal counterpart.”

I’m not attempting to discount Palin’s own charisma and ambition, and I’m sure there are countless tactics in play that I’m not even aware of, but I find myself wondering if these PR strategies could serve as case studies for the rest of us?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.


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