Of Playoffs and Rebounds

      40 Comments on Of Playoffs and Rebounds

As we almost universally agreed that Mitt Romney “won” the first presidential debate last week, we almost universally forgot that the event is supposed to be about substance, not style. But we all–especially PR people–understand that our emotions are often more influenced by images than by words. This is why there was far less discussion about the facts and policies presented by the candidates and far more discussion about body language and appearances.

There was little question that Barack Obama didn’t bring his “A” game to the debate on Tuesday. Romney supporters, after several weeks of missteps and widening polls, were re-energized. Obama supporters, after seeing gains in key swing states, began to worry again. But take heart or caution: The debates are a three-round playoff series and, as in the president’s favorite game, there are plenty of rebounds.

Please excuse the mixed sports metaphors but with a month to go before Election Day, there are still a few more innings to play. All eyes will be on Hofstra and the candidates on October 16 and again in Florida on October 22. As an added bonus, a vice presidential debate takes place this coming Wednesday. We and the TV pundits will again analyze who “won” and who “lost,” and we’re likely to spend far less time on the issues and far more time on likeability, mistakes and who delivered the better “zingers.”

I don’t blame the times we live in for this seemingly shallow approach to electing a president. Certainly we know that images have often outweighed words since the dawn of art, and then photography, and then television. PR and media pros understand how to use images to their best advantage. We know the story of the 1960 debates: those who listened on the radio thought Richard Nixon won while those who watched on TV preferred Kennedy. And in 1984, Walter Mondale was considered to have handily beaten Ronald Reagan in the first debate, yet there was no President Mondale. Because of or despite the debates, no one will have won or lost until November 6. Your thoughts?

40 thoughts on “Of Playoffs and Rebounds

  1. Jere

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  2. alex coughlan

    I think this was a prime example of properly training your spokesperson like we have been talking about in class. In this case Romney has been training for these debates and Obama has been out of practice for four years. Obama needs to step up and be more lively in order to standout in the next debates.

  3. Taylor Albright

    I completely agree. When I was reading this all I kept thinking about was the 1960 debate with Nixon and Kennedy. This came to mind because it is something we talk about in a lot of my classes. It is crazy thinking that there are similarities between then and now. We also just watched the movie “Frost/Nixon” which has a lot to do with interviews and television and how the people are going to view Nixon.

  4. Joanna Soares

    . Naturally, I am passionate about speech and writing, so while I am focused on how the words are being presented, with eye contact, body language, etc., I am not worried about other superficial aspects of image. I think that if people payed more attention to words rather than the aggression or tone that these words are expressed, they would think that Obama won every debate.

  5. Kerry Kiddoo

    I absolutely agree with your post. Our media and public is so focused on images rather than content now a days, which is sad. Think about it, a lot of people voted for Obama mainly because he was all about change and he was African America. People liked what they saw, and because of that, they could have been blinded to his messages. I’m not implying that is how he won in 2008, but it is a contributer. This is being said, people want to see a strong leader who takes control and has a strong presence. Therefore, is a candidate carries themselves well, as was the case in the first debate, he is deemed the winner. Maybe people should be less concerned on looks and focus more one what people are saying, maybe then we could make real changes in our society.

  6. Lauren Ciuzio

    I really liked this post. It’s pretty scary that there is so much media involvement within the election. I feel like the election this year is more like a reality show, and that takes away from what is really important. The public becomes drawn to a particular candidate based off what the media creates of them. We are drawn to the candidates personality, rather than their actual views on things. There is so much talk on social media networks, filled with facts that may not be 100% true, which gives people false knowledges of the candidates and their stand points.

  7. Michelle Shelorke

    I 100% agree with this post, professor. I know that PR and the media are able to create these images, but what frustrates me most is the people who do not consider all of these essential elements of the debates such as content and policies. They focus only on the image which, although is important, is not going to make our country better or worse. What will change our country is the ideas that the president sets forward to make our country thrive and stay out of debt. Those are the decisions that are most important. I think that there should not be a spoken “winner” or “loser” because that is something for each individual to decide for themselves rather than the media making that decision for them. As you said, the clear winner will not be known until Election Day.

  8. Rachel

    It’s interesting that you bring up McCluhan’s hot and cool mediums. As a candidate expressing himself through a hot medium, Obama definitely needed to interact more. In the first debate he may have been attempting to remain above the fray, or hoping to appear presidential, but he succeeded in appearing disinterested. Viewers including myself were forced to wonder if he even wanted to be reelected.

  9. Nicole Chiarella

    It is important that the candidates present themselves properly. The candidates wearing suits during the debates is not only professional but allows a more serious setting. But I do not think that the demeanor will be the only way for a candidate to qualify. It is important for Obama to make a come back and prove himself to those who are potential followers and to reassure those who are considering to vote for Obama again. The candidates need to know their topics and plans better than they know their outfits.

  10. Tha L. Spot

    I agree. Based on how the candidates carried themselves were more important to us viewers but we do have to remember when it comes to the election it is more than their appearance. It is about what they have done and what they are going to do to improve the U.S.

    -Jessica Chalmers

  11. Sherrell B.

    That is exactly my standpoint… No one will win the presidential election until November 6, not the debates. However social media holds so much power, that some maybe persuaded by the remarks of the majority. As oppose to the Kennedy/Nixon debate.
    I’ve personally have been reminding those around me to do their personal research and to not rely on what they see or hear from opinions of others.

  12. Julie Rafatpanah

    I feel like people tend to focus more on persona, body language, and appearances in politics because it’s simply easier; really understanding which candiate you support takes effort. It requires regular reading of news, researching facts (or falsehoods), and a personal investment in making an educated choice.
    I think that Obama will become much more aggressive in the next debate to make up for his PR shortfalls that occurred last debate. This may end up turning the tide in terms of undecided voters, and make them side with Obama; after all, many people are easily persuaded by appearances.

  13. Kristin Mancuso

    Despite Obama’s poor performance in the first debate, the subsequent two will be the main deciding factor for most Americans in the upcoming election. There is no doubt in my mind that Obama will rebound with richer material and aggressive persona in the next election held at our campus. It is evident that style influence the voters more over content therefore it is important that both candidates not only watch what they say, but also focus on their delivery, style and look. The media also focuses primarily on the PR tactics of the Romney and Obama therefore skewing the public to vote for the more personable and persuasive over the actual information itself. In saying this, I believe that Biden came out very arrogant and cocky therefore making him even more un-personable to the public. Although he may have made some excellent arguments, I was too distracted by his overpowering ego that I was unable to take anything he said seriously. Even in this day and age it is difficult to take either candidate seriously since everything they promise and say is unbinding. In the future, I hope we can take a similar route to England in politics where each candidate must follow through with what the promised if elected into office. This would not only force the public to vote on content but it would also change the game of politics as a whole I am interested to see if Romney can keep up his hype and continue to restore hope in his supporters who may have lost faith over the many controversial comments made in the last few months.

  14. Stephen Steglik

    Although these last couple of months have seemed to drag on forever, there is still plenty of election season to go. From our historical knowledge the 2nd debate is usually where the President gets his groove back. Time will tell and I am very excited that Hofstra will be the stage in which the Pres. can come with it. Our school’s image will be playing a role as well and whether or not we welcome one candidate more could help the results of the debate.

  15. Caitlyn Hutchison

    Style always overpowers content. There’s something that charisma, charm and engaging people bring to the table as opposed to a purely content based person. Style is definitely determined on a person level. But style is also fueled by the media and socially shaped by society. I personally think that Obama didn’t do as badly as the media says he did and that Romney came across as overbearing. However, this is just my personal style perception and obviously differs from others.

  16. Katlyn Catubig

    Politics are much like sports, aren’t they? Especially the debates. The way those in medieval times waited for a gladiator to be ripped apart by a lion, the entire nation eagerly awaits to see which candidate will eat the other for breakfast.
    Maybe that was a little dramatic. But it is definitely no surprise that political debates are becoming style over substance. As PR people, we know – image is everything. However, we cannot have style without content.

  17. Corey Wagner

    I agree completely with what you have blogged. The first debate reminded me a lot of the JFK/Nixon debate. I think America focused more on presentation because we have become a very superficial country. Although we do care about substance, I think the first debate was more about presentation, and the next two will be about what they are saying…or so I hope.

  18. Holly Haynes

    There is much truth in what you say. With a society so focused on media, it is hard for people to see past appearances. Though I do try to pay attention to the content as well, watching the debates on television have definitely skewed my opinions. However, especially after last night’s VP debate, my views maybe aren’t skewed (as that word can hold a negative connotation) but have been clarified. This of course is speaking still in the context of the candidate himself, not on content. As for the content, as it is the most important part, is also difficult for many American’s to understand, and may just seem like numbers.

    All of this being said, I am incredibly excited to see the next two debates. It will be interesting to see if Romney continues with such vigor and if Obama can keep up, or if the past four years have really tired him out.

  19. Spencer MacDonald

    From a public relations stand point I do agree that Mitt Romney did a better job of promoting himself through his “style”. I also agree with all the baseball references and I am going to have to say or at least hope that Barack Obama will come back swinging. The VP debate today was a good showing of a comeback. Joe Biden did a great job of being an aggressor and sort of making up for the lost ground after the previous debate. While maybe coming off rude, no one can say he was not engaging and offered real solutions. That being said, President Obama has to mirror Biden’s passion in the next two debate to stay on top.

  20. kerrisheehan

    Although no one wants to admit it, America is a blatantly superficial nation. In something with as much importance as a presidential debate it is key for viewers to pay attention to more than just who looks the best, however it is difficult to get past a candidates appearance. I agree that these days an election can be made or broken based solely on a candidate’s appearance and performance. I will still be voting for Obama, but I do think he needs to step up the performance factor of his campaign in the next debate.

  21. Christine Brazeau

    Image absolutely has a profound effect on the presidential election. Much of America was focused on the way that Romney and Obama interacted on a social level rather than on political stance. This is due to many different factors. One, most Americans are not that informed when it comes to politics. When the president, and Governor Romney are throwing terms about the national debt, and foreign affairs around, I struggle to understand what they’re saying. The majority of people are more focused on who they would like to see ruling their country and how they present themselves. It will be important for Romney not to lose the steam he had in the last election, because Obama will most certainly be on top of his game coming up next week at Hofstra. After the “train wreck” that Obama suffered last week, his advisors will make sure that he doesn’t mess up like that again. Watching these two men battle it out two more times will be momentous to watch. The upcoming debates could have similar outcomes to the first, or they could be drastically different.

  22. Anand Patel

    I can’t agree more with your statement regarding image and its effect on the viewer. This is all too true because like I have said before, people are inherently superficial and thus we are inclined to be more attracted to the one who is more appealing to us. During the debate we saw just this happen, Romney as one who is in control and on his game while Obama on the other hand was less than exciting, being extremely passive and underprepared. The debate is a performance and if the audience doesn’t like one of the players, the other automatically wins. It can’t be said that one or the other has definitively “won” the debate because that will only be determined on November 6, when all three of the presidential debate performances, along with the years of campaigning, all culminate in one monumental decision for the president of the United States. Romney most definitely has the look for being a president but does he have what the public wants? Obama has done a good job thus far in making his fellow Americans happy but he did not make much of a splash at the debate. Only time will tell who will win this most coveted prize.

  23. Kellianne

    I completely agree with the blog above. I do agree that Romney did infact “win” the first debate. Although there are two more debates to come, the win the first debate definitely is an advantage. The energy of Romney supporters is high and the Obama supporters are hoping for the best for the next two debates. This puts more pressure on both of the candidates; Romney needs to continue to do well and Obama needs to step it up. Although there was a clear winner in the debate, the content of the debate wasn’t favored by most people. I believe that the moderator had a huge impact on this, he wasn’t very good. I hope that the next two debates have better content to be discussed.

  24. brittanywalshh

    I believe that Romney “won” this debate specifically because of his ability to appear confident and aggressive. It seems as though Romney’s PR people put a heavy focus on style and poise and less of a focus on what was actually being said. Romeny flip flopped on some of his policies however many Americans who don’t follow the election and tune in for the debates wouldn’t know that. They only see a strong candidate who is seemingly stumping our president. I think Obama gave Romney an advantage by focusing heavily on Romney’s policies because this gave Romney the opportunity to clarify and promote his ideas as to why they are beneficial to the American people. Because Romney flip flopped a bit, Obama was unprepared with any comeback making Romney seem like the better candidate. In order to be successful in the next debate, Obama definitely needs to have a major comeback. He needs to stop speaking about past presidencies, the poor economy he was greeted with and Romney’s policies and begin to explain what he will do for this country. After all, that is what got him elected the first time around. It will be interesting to see how his PR professionals step up to the plate.

  25. Kevin Tamerler

    While viewing the first debate, the thought that kept running through my mind was: “Boy, Romney’s beating Obama like a rented mule, but he’s burning the furniture to do it.” He was throwing out well articulated policies (that didn’t exist), and biting criticisms of Obama’s actions (most of which didn’t happen).

    Romney may have won the first debate, but doing so required really pulling out all the stops, like factual accuracy. David Axelrod, one of Obama’s “inner circle” of advisers, has said that Obama was stunned by the brazenness of Romney’s lies, and whatever your opinions on Romney’s veracity the positions he was throwing out don’t match the ones he had used previously. The Obama campaign has already started making hay with the virtual treasure trove of mangled policy initiatives that Romney articulated in the debate. Besides the innumerable Big Bird jokes, there have also been excellent TV ads comparing Romney’s statements in the debate on the subject of his tax policy against independent media sources. How effective these lines of attack will be remains to be seen, but Romney’s debate win could turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory: costing him so much in credibility that ultimately, two more of those victories and Obama wins by a landslide.

  26. Leia Schultz

    The first debate between Governor Romney and President Obama, as you are correct in noting, was remarkable because of the differences between the men’s presence behind their podiums. Without a doubt, Romney’s intense smirking stares at the president (intensifying throughout the debate) and his self-assured body language was more striking to viewers than Obama’s reserved countenance. Romney also totally overwhelmed moderator Jim Lehrer, who seemed far too frail to assume control over the candidates and the debate proceedings. It was frustrating to see President Obama seem less presidential than his opponent. I expected Obama to behave with more poise, speak with more eloquence, and demand the respect of his rival and his country. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews gave voice to my sentiments during his “meltdown” after the debate concluded, asking, “Where was Obama tonight?!” In the coming debates, I would like to see Obama take control of the situation and hold Romney accountable for his fallacious claims.

  27. Ryan Derry

    I actually just wrote a blog post mentioning this issue as related to the debate but also the music business and pop culture in general (http://www.theradiantmind.com/2012/10/style-vs-substance.html). To me, substance should ALWAYS trump over style. No argument whatsoever. Like I said in my blog post, who would you rather elect as president of the United States, a man who lacks the facts but looks good doing it? Or a man who is honest, gives details, and looks simply par while doing it. I’d choose the latter and so would many other intelligent voters I presume. But to some, for some reason, looking good matters most. Whoever plans on voting for Governor Romney should watch this video of him essentially debating himself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPgfzknYd20 good stuff, definitely what I want my president to be like…

  28. Jenny Rowe

    I saw your tweet, “it ain’t over till it’s over,” and I definitely have to agree. We have no idea what could happen from now until the next debate, let alone the election. That being said, I think its crucial for both candidates to step up their game during the upcoming debates. The next few weeks will be interesting to say the least.

  29. Charles Fessel

    I think that the post was interesting. The debate seemed to be missing issues that were prevalent in the media and concerns of society. Obama is known for delivering speeches well, but I’m not sure that debates are his strong point. As far as PR, it’s clear that when there isn’t much to discuss, people will discuss the little things that were there. I do think that it is unfortunate that the debate didn’t contain more important issues and resolutions. Not to be cliche, but they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so it’s no wonder why images are often used to communicate on an different level.

  30. Lauren Means

    It’s interesting that when people measure the debate, they talk first about who carried themselves better, and then about whose facts or points were made better. When I compare notes on the debate, I find myself agreeing right away that Romney steamrollered over Obama; and then as we explore the debate more, we turn to the fact that Romney’s bold statements were not necessarily true to his campaign line. Obviously body language, reaction time and a bold presence make an impression with viewers.

  31. Michelle Soslowitz

    Image is definitely a factor to some people who watched the debate. I personally noticed right away both candidates were wearing blue suits and either red or blue ties with an American flag which showed that they are both patriotic. However their facial expressions didn’t match how well put together they dressed. Both candidates at times seemed to look either tired, or bored, or not really into the debate, and maybe that they weren’t prepared for it. It also didn’t help that both of the candidates were interrupting each other or making comments that were coming off as rude either. Hopefully with the next debate at Hofstra they will look more put together and more confident in what they are discussing, along with maybe having a better attitude towards one another

  32. Alecia Detka

    Putting my personal political opinions aside, it’s sad that the winners of these debates are based on image and style and not who has a better argument and plan for our future. Looking back, I believe neither canadate seemed ready to lead America for the next four years. Even considering style, Obama’s lack of fight and Romney’s rudeness at time put me off to both canadates.I’m expecting a lot to change in the next two debates, with style and presentation of facts.

  33. Nicole Risell

    I agree that visual imagery plays a very big part in selecting a candidate and the candidates themselves know who they are photographed with and how they look is important. The policies of each president are important and the primary way voters decide who they side with, but how they look is also a part of their campaign package. Obama looked really tired and weary at the debate, so i’m sure his people will make an effort in making him look more polished and well-rested.

  34. Jenny Zheng

    I think Obama won in terms of substance, but Romney won in terms of body language, and making his words sound good. However, as good as Romney sounded, he wasn’t believable. Obama seemed to have trouble without his teleprompter, he stuttered, and seemed flustered every time it was his turn to speak. I don’t think anyone expected this to happen. Personally, I figured Romney would try to shake Obama’s foundation by throwing out some low blows and Obama brushing them off with class and confidence. Jim Lehrer wasn’t supposed to fail as a moderator and the results of the debate should have been more clear. This goes to show that not everything will turn out as expected, and pr people especially have to be ready to handle everything. The debate has helped some undecided people (in Romney’s favor), but there are two more debates, so who knows what will happen.

  35. jackiezupo

    I agree people are more moved by images than by words, however I don’t believe this will be the deciding factor in the election. Right now Obama and Romney are pretty close in the polls. As for the swings states in many of the states Obama is in the lead but it still is very tight. This is only the first debate so anything can really happen. Also I was unimpressed with both candidates performance not just Obama’s. Even though I agree Romney “won” this first round he still received much criticism about his “appearance”. He came off smug and rude at times. Also, after the debate there were reports that even though he was confident he lied many times. Lastly, I think as the President of The United States Obama really needs to step up his game for the next debate in order to win the overall election. As for the Vice Presidential debate, it should be interesting what people will be saying the next day regarding appearance, considering Joe Biden is an old man and many people consider the younger candidate Paul Ryan to be attractive.

  36. passportstories

    I think that images are not more important than words, but more influential. The fact that images and reputation have such power over the human race proves why public relations is so important. We as humans are extremely judgmental to looks, which is a huge problem in our society today. It is actually sad to think our presidential campaign could be influenced by the way someone looks and therefore is perceived by the public to be the “better” candidate. I am extremely disappointed in the candidates this year and especially with their performances and views. Although no one really knows what we can do to fix our economy and all of the other current issues occurring in our country, neither candidate has convinced me to vote for them. At this point in the race, I will not be voting for either candidate, but a third party candidate. Both Romney and Obama better step up their game and clarify their points before the next debate or neither will be receiving my vote!

  37. Chloe Lambros

    I agree that public relations practitioners know how to utilize images and are very visually. Images can be very powerful and I believe that this statement follows the idea of how of most people see it rather than hear it then it must be true. Sometimes visuals empower or explain the things that words could not.

    In PR, when images are used, it can be for a number of reasons–all with the purpose of persuasion or to have the public see what was not fully heard. That is how I feel PR practitioners have used images to the best of their advantages.

  38. Bert Cunningham

    Excellent post, Jeff. On target in many ways. One thing campaign PR pros know is that TV is a hot medium. To make an impression, those who appear on it need to emote, be animated, show passion – in short – perform. Those who claimed that Romney was not connecting with people perhaps focused on his executive performance style: dispassionate, controlled, analytical. He was the opposite during the debate and viewers saw it unfiltered. Perhaps the President brought his executive personality to the debate when he should have brought his ’08 campaign personality. TV news anchors and reporters all “perform” a lot differently than just 10 years ago, because TV is a hot medium. So views expect high energy and rapid speaking styles. Know that in the Presidential debate at Hofstra Obama will bring his TV performance not his executive performance to the stage. The question is: will Romney be able to not only match his Denver performance, but exceed it to win round two or at least have a draw?The pressure will be extreme on both.


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