Political campaigning and PR: What’s the difference?







by Hannah Prigg PR & Communications Executive [email protected]

The race is on, as we enter the final four weeks before that all-important day. For the party leaders, every article, interview, and public appearance counts. Labour and the Conservatives have fiercely locked horns and are determined to do whatever it takes to clinch the keys to Downing Street for at least the next five years. But, this election race threatens to be the most unpredictable yet, and the likes of UKIP, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP certainly want to have their voices heard and recognised.

Campaigning may have been going on for many months but now is the time where things are really expected to heat up. From a PR perspective, those of us outside the realms of political communication will be eagerly awaiting to see what the party press and campaigning teams have in store next.

As our very own prime minister is an ex-PR man himself it’s no surprise that Cameron is the leading light of this media-fuelled brawl. With live election battles and politicians finding their feet on the social networks, this election is all about public perception. Politicians deem their media liaisons and public appearances part of their ‘campaign strategy’, but those of us in the industry are well aware that this is PR in its most obvious form – and here’s why.

PR Stunts: As political leaders are exposed to more media attention simply because of variety of mediums that advancing technology now offers, the scale of PR stunts or ‘campaigning’ will reach heights never seen before. Stunts are being cultivated across many different media formats with the most juvenile (albeit amusing) documented on social media. From the sale of election merchandise, including an SNP onesie to a UKIP chiffon scarf to photo opportunities at Pizza Express, party press teams are marketing their leaders like never before.

The more ‘highbrow’ stunts are being picked up and covered in detail by the traditional mediums. A little over a week ago, The Telegraph published a letter signed by 100 top business leaders who stated that a Labour government would put the UK’s economic recovery at risk. In response, Labour claimed that this ‘unprecedented’ intervention was in fact a party political stunt. Nonetheless, Labour counter-attacked by publishing a letter signed by actors, business leaders, writers, nurses and a host of low-paid workers.

Traditional Media Relations: Social media might be an important tool; especially when targeting the youth, but it’s still one cog in the campaign machine. Gimmicks posted on the networks like politically branded mugs might get laugh or even a retweet, but will it score a vote?

Party leaders will flourish or crumble when they are exposed traditional live broadcasting. It’s at this point when challenged under pressure that they will be most likely to pick up or lose those ever-important votes. The public will look to politicians to present their manifestos in a compelling and believable manner during these broadcasts – and it’s at this point when the stunts and gimmicks will be little more than an after thought.

Traditional media methods are still a major part of the political package, Mr Cameron quite obviously is aware of how a bad performance in a live television broadcast can be costly – hence his reluctance to take part in future live debates.

Statistics generated by Ofcom show that television remains by far the most dominant and trusted source of news – particularly among the older generation who are the most likely to vote. So, however much parties promote themselves online, the fact remains that their key audience members’ will be watching and listening to the live broadcasts.

Reputation Management: When exposed to so much limelight, things inevitably go wrong – even when dealing with the slickest of politicians.

That’s why many parties will have a well-equipped PR team on hand to pick up the pieces should things go wrong in the spotlight.

Green Party press teams are fighting tirelessly to salvage the reputation of leader Natalie Bennett, who has undoubtedly lost not only credibility but also votes too following a series of blunders on BBC Radio 4. Bennett seemed to have benefited from media training when she appeared in appeared on ITV’s seven-way leaders debate, though another damaging performance on air leaves a lot of work to do for Green publicists.

On the other hand, Ed Miliband’s reputation seems to be intact, despite receiving ongoing criticism regarding his apparent inability to address the public to the same standard as the Prime Minister. Mr Miliband addressed his critics with a calm, collected (and rehearsed) performance on ITV.

Though it’s not all smiles in the Labour camp as the reputation of the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls looks precarious this week following his apparent ‘change of heart’ regarding the non-domicile rule. Labour press teams have responded through the Chancellor’s official blog and claim that the Conservatives edited the broadcast in attempt to mislead the public.

In essence, this election is a PR matter. Politicians will look to present themselves and their message effectively through a wealth of multimedia channels – which at the core, is what PR is. Elections have always been about public perception but as technology provides more platforms for presentation the role PR plays will to continue to grow.

Politicians are utilising the services of their PR teams to their maximum value, and it’s working. Audiences of all ages are engaged, and politics is regaining its voice.

At ClearlyPR, we may not be able to guarantee you the same media attention as those vying to run the country – but if your business needs help getting its voice heard above the crowds, give us a call.