PR experts and #GE2017: How the election result happened in public relations speak
Just seven days ago the country looked rather different to what we see today, politically at least. The 24-hours before the snap General Election called by Theresa May’s Conservative Party was defined by last-ditch attempts by all concerned to win over the electorate- from mud-slinging and character assassinations to door-knocking and social sharing, it seemed everyone was getting involved in an attempt to see their party emerge victorious.
In the end, nobody really came out on top, although the biggest gains were clearly on the part of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour lot, who may have pulled off one of the biggest election upsets in living memory- managing to increase their share of seats in the Commons by more than any previous Labour party had since Attlee led his disciples to victory in 1945, a win that would see the establishment of the Welfare State and NHS, amongst other things.
Where from here is quite literally anyone’s guess, but you likely already know this. From our office here on Bridge Street we have looked on over the last few weeks with fascination as the two main parties attempted to win favour amongst the public. Now the dust has settled- for the time being at least- we decided to take a quick look from a public relations perspective at what each side did to wind up in the current situation. Brands take note, then, as this is relevant, even if there are no intentions of switching to politics any time soon.
In summary– Theresa May’s ‘shock’ decision to go for a snap General Election was, in many ways, the result of arrogance and assumption- both of which are often regarded as the mother of all, well, you know…
When the election was called a mammoth 29 point lead was reported in the mainstream media, with many titles claiming she was the most popular UK PM since Margaret Thatcher, surpassing even Tony Blair in his heyday. So, what on Earth went wrong?
Mistakes, we’ve made a few
Even from a neutral perspective, there’s no denying that if the Tories had been running this campaign on behalf of a PR client, they’d be looking for a new client right now. Here are just a few things they probably shouldn’t have done:
*Stones and glass houses- We have said several times before that brands of any kind should only make claims if they know those claims can’t come back to haunt them. A Conservative onslaught ensued once the election was called, but the more scrutiny that was placed on Labour, the more this was also reflected back onto May and her comrades in arms. Strong and stable soon started to look rather different. Especially given…
*Perceived avoidance tactics- When things aren’t going your way, as we have said many times before when discussing PR crises, transparency is vital. The Tories forgot about this golden rule, though, and instead opted to hold press conferences in inaccessible locations- including a remote Scottish facility where live broadcasts were impossible- and fill their chosen venues with party faithful, briefing attendees, including the press, on what not to ask. In contrast, the average Joe or Josephine was left out in the cold, unable to get a direct response from the party on any issue whatsoever.
*Socially unaware- This was, in effect, the undoing of those attempts at avoiding the public en masse and trying to be selective in terms of who could attend rallies. It is impossible to control content created by people on the streets, meaning when Theresa May rocked up to a storage unit in Edinburgh, and the television media showed what appeared to be a packed rally of supporters, it was only a matter of time before videos began emerging telling a very different story indeed, many of which went viral, leading to significant fallout.
*A war of personalities- Far be it from us to criticise anyone involved, we are taking no sides, but if you’re going to make a campaign about personalities, you need real charisma. Sadly for the right, Theresa May lacks this, whereas Jeremy Corbyn managed to find his just in time for a string of truly memorable speeches. By targeting the Labour leader as an individual, the Conservatives also forgot Thatcher’s famous quote: ‘when they attack one personally it means they have not a single political argument left’. This also made the public consider whether Theresa May was actually any better as an option, taking us back to the stones and glass houses point above.
In summary: #GE2017 was supposed to be curtains for Labour’s rediscovered socialist roots, with even party frontbenchers and the left wing media calling for Corbyn to step down and give them a chance of escaping decimation at the hands of the Tory battle bus. However, the opposite proved to be true, convincing everyone that the old party remit still has plenty of support from the public as a whole.
So, how did they manage to turn it around, reducing that 29 point lead in the opinion polls to single digits, or indeed overtaking the Conservatives amongst younger demographics?
Social, not mainstream
*Socially pro-active- As we mentioned in last week’s Blagger’s Blog, according to a survey published by The Independent, 75% of media reports about Labour negatively misled the public. Corbyn’s response to that bias involved looking to socials, rather than papers, for his support, getting out on the streets and allowing the wonders of smartphone cameras to do the talking for him.
*Highlight proven strengths- There are few better ways of convincing people your ideas are worthwhile than focussing on the ideas, rather than trying to paint your rivals in bad colours. Once the Labour manifesto was unveiled the vast majority of PR centred on the positive impact of those promises, rather than tarnishishing the reputation of the Conservatives. From a brand perspective, this is called playing to your strengths and being aware of potential weaknesses (which at the time mainly involved public perceptions of Corbyn as a person).
*Transparency- OK, so nobody can say that Labour ran a perfect campaign. In fact, there were more than a few blunders, not least during live media interviews. Nevertheless, by inviting the public to attend events in an open forum, few could accuse anyone involved of attempting to twist the reality of what was happening, or exert control over press conferences and live appearances in an attempt to gain positive coverage.
*Effective targeting- This was particularly important in terms of getting the youth vote, Labour played the hand dealt very well indeed, understanding that it would take more than a decent manifesto and prominent social media presence to get attention where it was needed. #Grime4Corbyn trended on Twitter thanks to support from artists that have the ear of the youngest voters, then you have major rallies attended by thousands which took on the form of festivals, again showing they were aware of who they needed to target, and how.
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