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The Political Mistakes PR Professionals Can Learn From

Blog post   •   Apr 21, 2015 13:27 BST

With the UK’s main political parties rolling out their manifestos last week, we take a look at the potentially damaging slip-ups their leaders (of both past and present) have made and the lessons us PR people can learn from those...

1. Don’t Insult Your Brand Advocates

This would normally go without saying, but evidently not for former Labour leader Gordon Brown who, during a meeting with lifelong reds supporter Gillian Duffy, labelled her as a “bigoted old woman”. Smooth, Gordon, smooth.

Although PR professionals desperately tried to repair the damage done by the Prime Minister by having him personally apologise to Gillian, there really was no recovering from it.

So the lesson here is: know who your brand’s fans are and nurture those relationships like your job depends on it – because it probably does!

2. Know What’s On Your Website

Even if it’s wrong. And yes, we’re looking at you, Nige’.

During a recent interview on the BBC, Mr Farage completely contradicted his own party’s manifesto…unintentionally so.

The presenter suggested that UKIP had said they were “against replacing Trident”, they would have “deployed the army during the London Riots of 2011” and “taxi drivers should wear uniforms". Farage profusely denied these "preposterous claims"...until the interviewer revealed that these quotes were on UKIP’s website. Squirming in his seat, Farage retorted: “well, I don’t know what’s on the website”. Awkward.

The Lesson: to avoid any potentially awkward situations, know not only what you’re saying about yourself on your website but also what your fans and competitors are saying too.

3. Stay True To Your Brand

Done with purpose and flair, rebranding can be an incredible thing. But completely breaking your promise to the people and losing their trust in your brand is a definite no-no.

Liberal leader, Nick Clegg is a prime example of this. Tuition fees – need we say anymore?

The prospect of the Liberals in partnership with Conservatives gave so much hope to the country’s lefties. But futilely so. As soon as Clegg got his polished shoes over the threshold of Westminster he went back on his promise of not increasing tuition fees and allowed David Cameron to almost triple them. Nice one, Nick. 

As a brand, if you strongly stand for something, stay true to it, you’ll gain and maintain much more respect.

4. Don’t Alienate Potential Partners

During a recent grilling on the Andrew Marr show, David Cameron, trying to sound like “one of the people”, proudly proclaimed that he enjoyed all the usual sports such as, oh – you know, “walking”, “fishing” oh and err “fox-hunting”...

Firstly, Mr Cameron, fox hunting isn’t really considered a “usual sport”, in fact, it’s (refrains from opinion over-share) one which was banned under the last government.

Secondly, football is the nation’s sport, followed by cricket and rugby – perhaps at least pretend you’re like the rest of us and understand what makes us tick. After all, we didn’t all go to Eton like you and your pals. We don’t all trot around on horses shooting innocent animals…I digress…

My point: if you’re trying to reach and appeal to a wider audience, know who they are, where they are and what the like. Tap into their interests and needs and align yourself with those. Don’t alienate potential clients.

5. Prepare For The Worst

Leader of the Greens, Natalie Bennett gave people high-hopes for her underdog of a party during the early stages of the electoral campaigns. But her lack of preparation and poorly thought-out policies became painfully evident during an interview on LBC. Bennett stuttered and spluttered in response to some of the interviewers trickier questions and, to the listeners, it sounded very much like she didn’t know what she was doing.

In any PR or brand campaign, think about the worst things that could possibly happen and prepare for them, that way you won’t come out looking like you don't know what you're doing!