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How NOT to launch an election campaign – PR own goals to avoid

As a communications professional, you quickly learn that there are some major PR ‘own goals’ to avoid when launching any campaign. To put it mildly, if you mess up your key interactions with your audience – no matter who that is – it will likely have a detrimental impact on your reputation and your ability to convert or win over that potential customer further down the line.

PR campaigns don’t come much more important than the run-up to an election. Last month’s announcement gave Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party the potential to start afresh, with new themes and policies after 14 years of uphill battling that could help them secure power, against all odds [and polls].

However, the announcement and the launch of the campaign were not handled well, to put it mildly. We did learn some things, namely on how NOT to launch an election campaign, or any milestone for that matter, regardless of your political allegiances.

We’ve outlined five of the top PR own goals made by Rishi so far:

Location, location, location

Obviously, no one can control the weather, but if it’s looking highly likely that it will rain, then it’s probably advisable to schedule any announcements inside. Particularly when you’ve recently opened a new – and controversial - £2.6m press room. And someone is blaring ‘things can only get better’ throughout your speech, a song synonymous with Labour’s 1997 election landslide. If you are intent on hosting the event outside – for some reason – and are saying that you are ‘the party with a plan’, then plan to take an umbrella with you. The sight of a soggy Sunak didn’t do him any favours, and will likely go down as one of the more memorable moments from his campaign, or any from recent history.

Man under and umbrella in the rain (2)

Check your schedule

Again, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but planning the election for Independence Day, and therefore giving the SNP (and increasingly, Plaid Cymru), fodder for their own campaigns, probably wasn’t wise. Any seasoned PR professional knows to check the national celebration and awareness days calendar before any major announcement (here’s a good one for reference). Seemingly, apart from those in Downing Street. Even the most unimaginative headline writers have had and will continue to have a field day with this one.

Avoid obvious pun opportunities

We’ve all seen the Thick of It, and it’s not advisable to stand in front of any signs that could be used against you, the same also applies to potential interview destinations. The Conservative party chose one of their first locations as Titanic Dock and, well, you don’t need to be Armando Iannucci to write the rest. Cue lots of questions about sinking entities, icebergs, captains going down with their ships and so on, all of which could have been avoided.

titanic and iceberg (2)

Announcing policies that make demographics hate you

Timing is everything. While the announcement of plans to reintroduce National Service is more of a policy, rather than a communication, issue, surely it could have been more effectively delivered, or wrapped up in other, more positive proposals. By launching plans to make all 18-year-olds undertake mandatory time in the armed forces, the Conservatives automatically encouraged all but the most self-flagellating young people to vote against them. This is a fairly hefty chunk of all potential voters who have been automatically turned off and could have been handled more effectively.

Drop the stunts

The modern consumer is a cynical beast, and social media has led to increasing scepticism of obvious PR stunts. The Prime Minister fell afoul of this cynicism after being spotted boarding a passenger-less train to Cornwall, one of the most deprived areas of the country, donning a £750 rucksack and while implying it was his first time using this mode of transport. This is to an electorate demanding better rail services, bemoaning growing economic inequality and a disconnected political class. Nobody thinks the billionaire Sunak is a ‘man of the people’, and trying to play up to it only leads to weakened messaging. Being authentic is a critical trait in the modern media, and those who attempt to con consumers will likely be found out.

This is only a selection of some of the missteps taken in the past few days. And it’s not just the Tories either; Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey has used his first few days of campaigning to take part in a variety of water-based activities, which doesn’t exactly add to his party’s credibility as a legitimate choice for voters.

While the run-up to an election is a particularly sizeable campaign, ultimately, it’s the same as all PR initiatives and therefore needs careful management, messaging and timing. If you’re considering attracting new customers or clients then speak to the experts to understand what information your target audience wants, and how they would like to receive it.

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Bruce CallanderAuthor: Bruce Callander

With over a decade’s experience in PR, marketing and communications, Bruce develops and executes media relations, content and social media strategies for firms in the recruitment and hiring industries, as well as suppliers to those sectors and other organisations both in the UK and internationally.



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