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My previous post was titled Political Campaigns: Two-Way Communications. In that article I argued that political parties and candidates need to move away from information delivery as the primary communication methodology of their public relations approach. I further argued they should move towards a more involved dialogue between their public and themselves. Two-Way Communications is where political parties and candidates attempt to achieve mutual understanding and align their message to their image. There needs to be a commitment of follow-through in Two-Way Communications. In my previous article I pointed to several examples. One such example was that the Scottish Labour Party may create mass-media that imply their listening. However, this doesn’t, in my opinion, appear to align with their practice. They may appear to be slow, or simply fail, to respond to social-media comments or tweets.
Now trying to move away from discussing at length this approach, whilst keeping it firmly in view. I wish to discuss how to plan a campaign strategically, by which I will propose some ideas and tactics towards running a candidates political campaign for public office. This has to be as general as possible. I don’t want someone thinking that running for Council is not as ’in-need’ of running a strategic public relations campaign. The Candidate for Councillor’s need for Strategic PR is just as important as someone running for Parliament, or even to be the next government. It could be argued that a local political candidate needs a much more hands-on and effective public relations approach. The reason they need such a hands-on-approach is that they deal more closely with the general public. Much more closely than a regional or national political candidate, who may just need the appearance of good public relations. Of course I would prefer them all to have great public relations, but in reality candidates will spend finances where they see fit. Each article in this series (from here on) will propose only one or two possible tactics you could theoretically use to run for office. These ideas are not just tactics, they are things to remember whichever tactic you use. That is they are not mutually exclusive and can also feature as elements of different tactics. Just because you use tactic two doesn’t mean tactic one doesn’t apply. This particular post will just focus on Tactic One — Celebrity, and just few ’things’ around that.
TACTIC ONE: CELEBRITY
Your candidate is a celebrity — no not a Justin Bieber (or a Kylie Minogue for us of a slightly older generation) -type celebrity. And they may be completely unheard of, but then this is part of the duty of the campaign, to raise their profile.
Take Ruth Davidson, of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, during the 2016 Scottish Parliament Elections. Much of the campaign literature put out by the party didn’t highlight the party as much as it did Ruth Davidson, they made her the focus of the campaign, not the party. Ruth Davidson became a ’celebrity’ and the “Nasty Party” became the “Ruth Davidson” party. Notice the framing of the press conference (pictured right) and the campaign rally (pictured below). Her party logo is the only thing in sight, not the party name, the distancing was raised in media, if only briefly, as a personality campaign:/span>
Davidson ran a strong campaign, matching the SNP’s personality-led “Re-elect Nicola” slogan with her own “Ruth Davidson for a strong opposition”. – The Guardian, 2016
It was something highlighted by Political Professor Paul Cairney at the University of Stirling in his ARTICLE for Scottish Affairs:
Indeed, many of its campaign materials emphasised Ruth Davidson’s leadership without mentioning the party’s name at all, in part to address the low value of the Conservative brand in Scotland without becoming a separate Scottish party…
Raising the profile of your candidate is both about marketing, branding, advertising and public relations. It can be done through a specific policy, championing an idea — such as Nigel Farage and Brexit. It can be about making them appear more human, such as Boris Johnson’s 7 appearances on Have I Got News For You. His first appearance on the show is credited with helping him get elected as Mayor of London (Sonia Purnell, Just Boris: Boris Johnson: The Irresistible Rise of a Political Celebrity, 2011, 176-17; and Andrew Gimson, Boris: The Rise of Boris Johnson, 2012, 127-129). Whatever you decide to use to raise the profile you have to play to your audience and your candidate’s strength. In the case of Boris Johnson it was and is his television appeal, as described by Benji Wilson in the Telegraph:
It was vintage Johnson, Johnson premier cru – on the face of it taking a rinsing from Eddie Mair about past indiscretions, and yet once the harrumphing was done the abiding feeling was, “that was another wonderful piece of telly starring Boris Johnson.”…Regardless of what you think of Johnson’s politics or predilections, the man is TV gold.
And that’s the point, it’s not necessarily about the candidate is good, or even loveable, it’s about their media profile. So whether getting them to give speeches at impressive conferences or at rallies; or to meet people in meet-and-greets; if it’s crying on Oprah’s sofa. The job is to raise the profile enough so that your candidate is the most obvious candidate. When fighting an election it doesn’t matter if there are 20 candidates if your candidate is the most talked about. Positive or negative media coverage doesn’t appear to matter (just look at Donald Trump). What matters is if they’re talked about. If the only candidate that 90% of the electorate has heard about is yours, if the profile is so large it swallows everyone else’s up, you’ve achieved half the battle.
The line between fame and notoriety has been erased… the criteria of their celebrity being that their images encapsulate some form of the American dream, that they give enough of an appearance of leadership, heroism, wealth, success, danger, glamour and excitement to feed our fantasies. We no longer demand reality, only that which is real-seeming…The public appetite for celebrity and pseudo-event has grown to Pantazruelian proportions… (quoted in Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics, Dennis L. Wilcox & Glen T. Cameron, 2009, 572)
…and Wilcox and Cameron also note that sometimes an argument with another celebrity will be beneficial:
Most recently, Trump is the star of the television show The Apprentice, whose TV ratings benefited in 2007 from his inflammatory war of words Mith Rosie O’Donnell, cohost at the time of a talk show called The View. Love him or loathe him, “The Donald,” as he is sometimes called, is the consummate newsmaker and celebrity He is also a remarkable survivor of personal and business crises and scandals. (from Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics, Wilcox and Cameron, 2009, 572).
It’s therefore important to remember that a negative image is not necessarily an insurmountable problem. Sometimes Mr. Nasty can be seen to get a job done effectively and efficiently. Opposed to Mr. Nice, who flip-flops and just wants everyone to be happy. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Theresa May won her snap general election in 2017, over and against the vegetarian-green-living and pacifistic Jeremy Corbyn.
It is important to realise that some people seeking political office may somewhere on the narcist spectrum. Speaking about the “New York real-estate high roller” and now President of the USA, Donald Trump, Dennis L. Wilcox and Glen T. Cameron, noted that, Trump placed his name everywhere, had his own Publicity agent (aside from the one employed by his business empire) and also telephoned reporters with stories about himself.
- “proclaim dismay & lack of knowledge when the facts support innocence.
- make reparations when a celebrity punches a journalist or breaks a paparazi’s camera
- reverse the role from offender to crusader for the new cause
- arrange an event or conference to make the new commitment real
- proclaim the new role through media relations efforts.” (from Wilcox & Cameron, 2009, 572).
Dreaming of achieving such glory for themselves, young people with and without talent came to Holywood to crash the magical gates, almost always in vain. (Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics, 2009, 574).
Whilst its okay to have a “solo-hero” or “celebrity” for a candidate, you may wish to tie them to a specific community or create a sense of community. In recent times some politicians, sometimes with little success, have tried to make themselves the “hero” of a particular community. An example of this failure is Tasmina Ahmed-Sheki for WASPI women. In truth, it is best to simply be the “facilitator” of giving “voice” to that community. By giving a voice and championing a particular section of the wider society, you can become both a hero, but also give a sense that you are helping a particular community. The facilitator can be a vote-winner, the Labour Party has traditionally excelled at being a facilitator and sometimes as the hero. As Labour became the political voice of the Unions and the working classess.
In recent times this has ’given’ way to less ’firm’ ideologies. Other political parties have taken the mantle of championing the voice of “Scottish-ness” (the Scottish Nationalist Party); or “British-ness” (The UK Independence Party). This has in turn led to a more divided society. As argued briefly in my previous article – the Scottish 2014 independence Referendum has created a divided Scotland.
The final psychological factor is best known as the Entertainment factor. People’s desire to be entertained. As already mentioned, I think Boris Johnson is a classic example of this. His appearances on Have I Got News For You, as well as his various ’stunts’ and “comic” witticisms, are a desire to entertain on his part. And those who accept and enjoy Boris Johnson’s “adventures” do so because they have a desire to be entertained. Wilcox and Cameron state: “A public relations practitioner assigned to build up the public image of an individual should analyze the ways in which these psychological factors can be applied. Because the client’s cooperation is vital in promotional work, a wise publicist explains this background and tells the client why various actions are planned.” (Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics, 2009, 575).
One of the major parts of a political campaign is the policies, platform or issues that your candidate stands for. Simply re-hashing the manifesto of the party or even ’relying on historic values’ may no longer be enough. The candidate should find specific parts of the manifesto they can make their own, and specific parts of history, the spirit of which, they can recapture.
It’s important that the candidate captures the mood of the electorate, wider public and the press when articulating their policies. Inappropriate articulation, or ’flip-flopping’ will almost certainly lead to the twisting and misunderstanding of the actual policy, and the caricaturing of the candidate. Classic examples of this are Theresa May’s “Dementia Tax” and Gordon Brown’s “Death Tax”.
Oratory – Speeches
Another important factor, often a little over-looked is speeches. It’s actually a vital part of Public Relations, and certainly a vital part of the celebrity candidate’s arsenal. I will focus more on this in my article on ’tactic two’. Some basic points until then: If you choose (as a candidate) to hire a PR guy, and also include speech-writing in their remit, it has to be someone who knows you well. A ’short-hand’ between you will be helpful, as well as the ability to read one another. If you have to make speeches, either to large audiences, small groups, live, pre-recorded for television, impromptu, pre-recorded etc, get some training in speech writing and speech making. There are some great books out there that can help. There are also some great organisations like Toastmasters‘ (locally to me: ‘Stirling Speakers‘). As well as the ‘English-Speaking Union‘; ‘Association of Speakers Clubs‘; and the ‘Professional Speaking Association‘. Most university student unions have a ’Public Speaking Society’ which is usually cheaper, and can usually be joined by external members of the public. I used to (last year, before being a student at Stirling University) belong to the ‘University of Stirling’s Public Speaking Society‘. There are almost certainly a whole raft of Public Speaking Socities – a simple online search will help you find them. Next time, in Tactic Two, I’ll give some ’ideas’ around Speech making, as well as covering the history of oration and rhetoric…’
ORIGINAL ARTICLE FROM: Ed Thomas PR’s Uni Blog