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A good foundation for future political consulting work is early involvement in school government. Actively participate in committees and clubs that have officers and elections. You can also become involved in local, state, and federal elections by volunteering for campaigns; though you may just be making phone calls and putting up signs, you may also have the opportunity to write press releases and schedule press conferences and interviews, and you will see firsthand how a campaign operates.
Working for your school newspaper will help you learn about conducting research, interviews, and opinion polls, which all play a part in managing media relations and political consulting. You may be able to get a part-time job or an internship with your city's newspaper or broadcast news station, where you will gain experience with election coverage and political advertising. Visit the Web sites of U.S. Congress members. Many sites feature lists of recent press releases, which will give you a sense of how a press office publicizes the efforts and actions of Congress members. Read some of the many books examining recent political campaigns and scandals, and read magazines like Harper's (https://harpers.org) and National Review (https://www.nationalreview.com) for political commentary. Also learn more about how political consultants think and communicate by following them on social media sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn.
If you were to manage a political campaign, how would you go about publicizing the candidate to the largest number of voters? You'd use TV, of course. The need for TV and radio spots during a campaign is the reason it costs so much today to run for office. And it's also the reason many politicians hire professionals with an understanding of media relations to help them get elected. Once elected, a politician continues to rely on media relations experts, such as press secretaries, political consultants, and political managers, to use the media to portray the politician in the best light. In recent years, such words as "spin," "leak," and "sound bite" have entered the daily vocabulary of news and politics to describe elements of political coverage in the media.
Political consultants usually work independently, or as members of consulting firms, and contract with individuals. Political consultants are involved in producing radio and TV ads, writing campaign plans, and developing themes for these campaigns. A theme may focus on a specific issue or on the differences between the client and the opponent. Their client may be new to the political arena or someone established looking to maintain an office. They conduct polls and surveys to gauge public opinion and to identify their client's biggest competition. Political consultants advise their clients in the best ways to use the media. In addition to TV and radio, the Internet has proven important to politicians. Consultants launch campaign Web sites and also chase down rumors that spread across the Internet. A consultant may be hired for an entire campaign, or may be hired only to produce an ad, or to come up with a sound bite (or catchy quote) for the media.
Negative campaigning, also known as "mudslinging" or smear campaigns, has, unfortunately, become a normal part of the election campaign process that communications managers and press secretaries must effectively deal with. In his 2008 presidential election campaign, Barack Obama had to address claims regarding his U.S. citizenship, his religion, and his association with Bill Ayers, a radical activist in the late '60s and early '70s who served as a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago until retiring in 2010.
Political consultants also provide media relations expertise. They are often called spin doctors because of their ability to manipulate the media, or put a good spin on a news story to best suit the purposes of their clients. Corporations also rely on spin for positive media coverage. Consultants are often called upon during a political scandal, or after corporate blunders, for damage control. Using the newspapers and radio and TV broadcasts, as well as social media postings (such as Facebook and Twitter), political consultants attempt to downplay public relations disasters, helping politicians and corporations save face. In highly sensitive situations, they must answer questions selectively and carefully, and they may even be involved in secretly releasing, or leaking, information to the press. Because of these manipulations, some political consultants professionals are viewed as people who conceal facts and present lies, prey on the emotions of voters, or even represent companies responsible for illegal practices. However, many political consultants and media representatives are responsible for bringing public attention to important issues and good political candidates. They also help organizations and nonprofit groups advocate for legislative issues and help develop support for school funding, environmental concerns, and other community needs.