The UK election and communications failures
There is a lot of uncertainty in UK politics. But there are two certainties for communications professionals to reflect on.
This first is the importance of the basics. At its core, any election is fundamentally a communications campaign. It’s about selling a programme to voters, just like any B2B or B2C campaign. There’s arguably more at stake in political campaigning than business communications but the essentials are the same. Perhaps the major difference is that the election process puts a campaign under hugely intense pressure so there is no room for capillaries, let alone cracks.
The basics are that you need a solid strategy backed up by excellent tactical implementation. Theresa May’s Conservative party’s strategy had chasms. There wasn’t any real need for the pressure of a campaign to expose the problems. It was bad planning and given both having the election and its timing were in May’s control, that really was a grave error.
On tactics, May was not good at delivering on the – albeit flawed – strategy. She is not an empathetic spokesperson and that was apparent from very early on. It seems the Conservative party ran a highly sophisticated Facebook campaign. I say ‘seems’; we’ll never really know because, thanks to the Facebook algorithms, unless you’re a target you’ll never see the advertising. Perhaps too much focus went into the digital side at the expense of other areas of delivering the messages?
The second lesson is to make sure your buyers like what you’re selling. The Scottish National Party, which lost 21 of its 56 Members of Parliament, has been pushing for a second independence referendum. Independence is the SNP’s raison d’etre of course, but the polling evidence showed there is little appetite for a second vote in the near future. In fact, during the campaign the SNP tried to talk down the prospect of a referendum, but it was too late.
Political parties are typically very good at polling, focus groups and so on. The same techniques can, and should, be deployed for any communications campaign. What really matters is, having found out what people think, is to act on it. It looks like that’s where the SNP fell down.
So there are two lessons, even at this very early stage: make sure you’ve really thought through your strategy and tactics, and do your insight research to know exactly what appeals to your audience before you craft your messages.
What happens next? The UK electorate didn’t deliver a clean result and our political class needs to listen. The biggest issue facing the UK is Brexit. My view is that the electorate has asked the main parties to work together to build a platform to formulate our negotiating position and deliver it. Only time will tell if that can happen.
Senior Advisor, International Communications, based in London
Charlie is an experienced communications consultant who started Leidar UK in 2010. He is responsible for developing and implementing communications strategies for companies and organisations of all sizes and in many different sectors.