Gov. Terry Branstad speaks to public relations class


Photo: William Deaton/Iowa State Daily

Gov. Terry Branstad had a Skype session with Michael Wigton’s JLMC 220 Public Relations class to discuss how the government and public relations work together Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, at Bessey Hall. Branstad spoke about past public relation incidents and how his staff reacted to disaster situations and other events.

Megan Swindell

Gov. Terry Branstad skyped into Michael Wigton’s Principles of Public Relations class Wednesday to explain how he uses social media and technology as governor.

“We started this ‘Skype Your School’ this year, and we’ve been doing it with elementary, middle schools and high schools. So, now, I’m pleased to do it with the university class in public relations,” Branstad said.

Branstad said he recognizes the role of social media in society today and used it widely throughout his campaigning process. When he was in office the first time from 1983 to 1999, social media did not play a role in his campaign. Branstad is now accessible through Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Youtube and more.  

“Today, anything and everything is subject to being reported… When I was governor before, social media didn’t exist,” Branstad said. “Today, every cell phone is a camera, and there’s recording devices virtually everywhere… So, there’s no such thing as things that are off the record anymore, and I think that’s one thing that you just have to accept and recognize as part of the environment today.”

Knowing that technology has made politicians more transparent than ever, Branstad said he makes a point of keeping in constant contact with his constituents. Whether it be through his radio show on WHO radio, visiting each of the 99 counties in Iowa each year or through social media, Branstad said he does all he can to avoid unanswered questions.

“We have an ‘Ask the Governor Program’ where people can go on Facebook or email in a question, and we have a regular weekly press conference,” Branstad said. “A lot of times the people feel they’re in the dark, and when questions are not being answered, they suspect the worst. So, I try to be really open and really direct in giving people the information the best we can. … I think it’s important to always be accessible.”

Branstad said he is a firm believer that there is nothing like personal contact but also noted that personally interacting with the 3 million people in Iowa is not possible. Aside from speaking engagements, Branstad uses social media to access Iowans, especially his younger constituents.

“So many young people get their news through social media today. Historically, it was newspapers then radio and television. So, Facebook and Twitter and ‘Skype Your School’ all make a difference,” Branstad said. “I think we’ve made significant progress in social media since I’ve become governor. We also are trying to get all of our material online so that people can interact with the government in a more effective and interactive way.”

Sarah Vickland, sophomore in event management and student in the Principles of Press Relations course, said that social media is the means by which her family got information about the campaign.

“I liked both candidates’ Facebook pages out of curiosity,  and the only reason anyone in my house knew anything about the election was because of Facebook,” Vickland said.

Branstad said he plans to keep up his communication throughout his time serving as governor.

“My feeling is that the more exposure you can have, the more accurate of a picture you can give people of who you are and what you do. [Then,] the better it is.”