The logistical disaster that was the 2000 Presidential election and subsequent recount in Florida turned out to be a gold mine for the PR industry.
As companies like Diebold Election Systems, Election Systems & Software, and Sequoia Voting Systems lobbied for their electronic machines to replace ancient punch-card and lever-action ballots, PR, public affairs and lobbying shops went to work across the country to tout (and defend) e-voting as the cure to all of our embarrassing voting ills.
When ESS turned in a shaky performance in Indiana, Fleishman-Hillard was there to help. When Diebold was hit for not producing paper records of votes, Ogilvy and Public Strategies were happy to help. Edelman even got into the act to re-brand DES as "Premier Election Solutions." [Update: PES moved its PR account to Manning Selvage & Lee's Atlanta office earlier this month.]
But that was just half of it.
After Congress got involved and passed the elementary-sounding Help America Vote Act, the public sector opened its coffers for a PR spending spree. With generous subsidies from the federal government, states were encouraged to launch public education campaigns to show citizens how to use the shiny new machines. Six- and seven-figure PR pacts were up for grabs in seemingly every state – South Carolina, Ohio , New York, Utah, Arizona, Florida.
And then there are places like Hillsborough County in Florida. Hillsborough, which includes the large city and surrounding areas of Tampa, made the bold switch to touch-screen machines ahead of the 2004 election. Hill & Knowlton earned a solid six-figure sum working for two years on that transition, educating voters about the machines and urging them to turn out for the election.
After touch-screen machines botched the 2006 Congressional midterms in the county, legislators moved to scrap the touch-screen machines in favor of optical-scanning devices. So now Hillsborough has laid out another $40K this season for Schifino Lee Advertising & Branding to "teach voters how to use new optical scanning voting machines before they go to the polls in November." (H&K incidentally handled a similar assignment for St. Petersburg/Clearwater in '04.)
Another switch, another PR campaign. PR pros should thank the people of Florida for their dismal performance in the fall of 2000.