Election PR the Manifest way.
If we turn back the clock five years and remember the clash between a ruddy-faced David Cameron and a rather weary-looking Gordon Brown, 3.5 million people across the UK used Twitter. Today that figure is closer to 15 million while newspaper sales continue to fall (by half a million in 2015). On that basis alone, it’s clear that the landscape of everyday communications is in the midst of a major-shift – and few public arenas are able to demonstrate that shift better than the all-consuming cloud of modern election politics. Naturally, the 2015 General Election was still fought through the media – but perhaps the mediums have shifted.
Of course, as a national PR agency, the election is a serious opportunity to really grab some attention for our clients. So here’s a short summary of a few of the things we’ve learned about getting our client’s voices heard above the din.
As the hype began to build back in March we were able to secure a ministerial visit for our client Wienerberger that gave a real boost to social media activity and helped to highlight the client’s position in regards to a genuine national issue – namely the shortage of bricks. Unsurprisingly, being seen to address the topic was high on Brandon Lewis’ agenda – but the fact that he came an hour out of London to tour the factory in Ewhurst in the weeks in the midst of the long campaign was a real testament to the impact of the campaign, which launched in July 2014.
However, it’s important to exercise some caution with regards to sending out invites willy-nilly to ministers or their shadow counterparts. If the client has a relevant position on a live issue and there is a symbiotic interest in a visit – go for it. Yet, if that link is more tenuous than topical, and if you aim higher than your issue reasonably warrants, you might just find yourself pestering officials who probably can’t help you anyway.
Doing it back to front
If you’re hoping that DC, Bojo or Labour’s next leader will attend a photo opportunity don’t start Googling contact details – for once that’s not the easiest way! The first step should be to contact the local MP or, should you be looking for a visit from a member of another party, the local parliamentary party association. They can then feed into the diary teams of your target politico.
Every PR professional worth their salt will know the importance of campaign timing. However, when the country’s in the grip of election fever, it’s even more crucial.
The ‘long campaign’ may have began in mid December last year, but as of the 30th April, the Government enters Purdah. With its meaning linked to the curtain hiding a harem (no lie!), Purdah is the time when the Government is restricted on its use of the civil service and Parliament officially dissolves. This impacts the media’s legal ability to report stories involving political candidates. For example, when James Wharton visited Barratt Homes’ (another of our clients) Mandale Park development in Stockton, the press were unable to print the story. However, even without the bonus of regional/national coverage, it still proved an event worth doing, certainly with regards to the relationship between the client and its residents.
During the final weeks of the campaign everyone is going to be speculating and trying to place their respective clients as thought leaders. In this scenario, the trick is that there is no trick – simply make sure your client is talking about the things they know most about: the political issues that genuinely affect your client’s business.
It won’t guarantee coverage and attention (no-one can promise that), but you will certainly be giving yourself and your client the best possible chance.
You might consider offering comment on the outcome – but to really ensure you get the jump on competitors it may be shrewd to draft copy covering all permutations of what that outcome might be. For example: outcome A – a Tory majority, outcome B – Labour majority or outcome C – a hung parliament including different compositions. Just make sure that the content and opinion you’re putting out adds something to the discussion – there’s nothing worse than ‘opinion’ that says absolutely nothing!
Granted, it’s another five years until the next election, so these tips might seem a little on the slightly late/extremely early side. However, while the media landscape might have evolved further in that time – the principles of successful election communications probably wont.