It’s coming down to the wire. With the Iowa Caucus less than a week away, the campaign is shifting into high gear. But presidential candidates can’t simply advertise with the intent of broadcasting their names; they need a media strategy. With so many different approaches, it’s time for candidates to home in on reaching their target audiences. These decisions include what message to relay, what groups to target and which advertising outlets to use. One of the most crucial pieces in a successful candidacy is PR strategy. More specifically, how to reach the American people. With so many different media outlets—from newspapers to social media channels to podcasts—the choices are endless. How do candidates find the right marketing balance?

The presidential race evolves tremendously from one run to the next. However, one popular approach has remained constant: setting the tone early. Many politicians will agree that producing a strong start to the race is a crucial part of being elected to any office. The Iowa Caucus offers candidates just that opportunity.

The first primary of every presidential season, the candidates view the Iowa Caucus as one of the most influential events of the campaign, even though Iowa produces less than one percent of presidential votes. However, producing positive results in the Iowa caucus sends an early and powerful message that the candidate has great momentum to capture the nomination. On the other hand, leaving the Iowa caucus with negative results typically leads to a drop in supporters and funding (and often an early exit from the race).

With the understanding of Iowa’s vitality, how do we ensure success? Marketing strategies are constantly changing, and it’s important for candidates to be flexible media-wise.

For example, television advertisements eat up a huge chunk of presidential marketing budgets. However, in recent years the effectiveness of these ads has dropped off. Many experts argue that the new staple marketing outlet is social media. Each candidate is making a tremendous effort to reach millennials through carefully choosing their message, approach and marketing channel.

Social media is the key to reaching younger audiences. Websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram give candidates the potential to successfully advertise using both paid and earned media. For example, a candidate might pay Facebook.com to endorse an article about his goals as president.

In addition, social media is a powerful tool to use leading up to the Iowa caucus because it gives candidates the rare opportunity to transition away from some of their paid media and begin to rely more heavily on earned media. This approach will likely influence the Iowa caucus heavily, as earned media is considered the most credible source, and audiences are more receptive to “word of mouth” marketing. Younger generations also are much more likely to tune out a traditional paid advertisement than they are to ignore what their peers have to say about the presidential race.
For the upcoming Iowa caucus—which has the potential to make or break a candidate—you will likely see hopefuls stepping outside their realm of traditional marketing and into the new age of digital public relations.

Keep in mind, balance is important. Candidates will still travel to the state and speak to as many communities as possible. There will still be television and radio advertisements. However, as the popularity of social media continues to grow exponentially, candidates will begin to rely more heavily on these digital avenues than ever before. Gone are the days in which a presidential election can be won with radio and television advertisements and appearances on national news channels. The impact of social media on presidential races is just beginning.