How Labour is winning the PR battle in the General Election

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PR has shaped Ed Miliband’s campaign, with a little help from Russell Brand

We’re at the business end of the General Election campaigns, and it’s entirely predictable that we’ve been subjected to the usual “we’re on the right path” from the party in power, contested by “the need for change” combined with “things can be better” from the challengers.

However I have been surprised at the lack of clear, old-fashioned marketing campaigns from the main parties. Though UKIP did put up billboard posters at Dover, of course.

While we’re on that, is it UKIP or Ukip, by the way? Lots of the media have gone for lower case, but how can an acronym not be capitalised? Moving on.

What is evident, though, is the way in which PR has shaped the election candidates, particularly Labour’s leader, Ed Miliband.

There’s no contesting that the leader of a party has a far greater influence on voters than used to be the case. Whilst the values of a party would once to take centre stage, the public now buy into the leader, with the party becoming a secondary consideration. Blame X Factor, if you like.

What’s really interesting is how the public perception of the leaders has evolved in the build up to election day. Miliband is a good case in point; he started as the awkward, helpless “wrong brother” who struggled to eat a bacon sandwich properly.

Miliband’s personal brand (not Russell) has been enhanced by not only what seems to be a genuine level of integrity, but a somewhat aggressive intensity to get into the hot seat. Finishing the first live debate by responding to Jeremy Paxman with a “hell yeah”, challenging Cameron to debate him, and being willing to be interviewed by Russell Brand, Miliband is demonstrating the proactive type of ‘get stuck in’ attitude this country admires.

Many feel politics has been too reactive in recent history. Speaking of which, Cameron promised to get “bloody lively” in the final push towards election day. See what I mean?

Which brings me to the Conservatives, who suffered the highest-scale campaign PR blunder to date when a letter supposedly signed by 5,000 small business owners concerned about a “dangerous” switch back to a Labour government turned out to in fact originate from Conservative HQ. And that’s not to mention the company who spoke out, claiming they’d not actually signed it. Ouch.

In addition their campaign has been hurt by some very late policy changes – seen as desperate measures – coupled with scathing allegations from Lib Dems about plans for cuts should they get re-elected. Cameron also reacted to the “Milibrand” developments poorly, frankly.

Getting back on track, a lot was made of Miliband’s late night meeting at Russell Brand’s house earlier this week – PR that the Labour camp will have been more than satisfied with. They received almost 24 hours of speculation about the nature of such a visit, with many keen to condemn Miliband for engaging with the comedian only days before the election.

An awful lot of snobbery, in truth, but what those journalists fail (or can’t bear) to grasp is the influence Brand can have on the younger generation (which they can’t).

This is the generation confused by politicians who all vaguely come across the same, disillusioned by their promises and frankly disengaged because confidence in politicians is at an all time low. The trust factor is hardly surprising, given the expenses scandal is still somewhat fresh in the memory.

The video appeared on Wednesday with the consensus being that Miliband came across well, handling Brand’s dominance in the way a good leader would. But more importantly, from a PR perspective, let’s look at the impact it could have.

Let’s consider the numbers for a moment: it’s been well documented that Brand has 9.5 million followers on Twitter. Clearly a staggering figure, however, he’s not just a British comedian; he’s a Hollywood star, too. Conservatively speaking we could assume roughly 50% of those followers are British, and that a good proportion would be aged 18-30.

Arguably a better measure is the subscribers of his YouTube channel ‘The Trews’ (as in True News) with over a million subscribers, who are much more likely to be UK based. At the time of writing, the video has 650,000 views. And a proportion of his followers will be influenced by the social media buzz without even watching it, so let’s assume the level of influence for that captive audience is up to somewhere around the 1 million mark.

The execution was on-point for a YouTube broadcast, too. It’s all very well being in a professional television studio answering a list of pre-defined questions, or doing a party broadcast while delivering a well rehearsed script approved by the communications director. But the difference with Miliband’s appearance on The Trews is that he didn’t have that. Take the camera angle, for instance. It’s dreadful. There wasn’t (or didn’t seem to be) a list of questions prepared. And I’ve not even mentioned the fact it was filmed in what appeared to be the kitchen. But all of that contributes to the perceived authenticity of the footage. We don’t know how much his PR team fabricated the ‘at home’ vibe, but it doesn’t matter. It felt very real, and consciously or not, the YouTube generation will relate far better to it.

In the marketplace brands communicate to their target markets through the means their consumers use. What Miliband has done is channeled his message through Brand’s medium in order to tap into some of the younger voters. No high profile endorsement, no desperation – the final result is a guy who feels passionately about changing the country, with some honest answers getting his message out there.

You have to say it’s a shrewd move by Labour. They’ve essentially tuned into a massively under served market there. In the business world he’d have been praised for that type of PR; finding a platform to reach out to so many, with such little effort.

Going into the final days before the election, it’s Labour who have the PR momentum. The Conservatives will have to score two more to cancel out their own goal.

2 thoughts on “How Labour is winning the PR battle in the General Election

  1. My thoughts were right from the start that Milliband engaging with Brand was a massive gamble and one that would go one way or the other Labour. By doing this Milliband has made a very shrewd decision in trying to engage with a part of the electorate that doesn’t tend to vote. It appears to be paying on off only the ballot box on May 7th May will give us the final verdict on this.

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    • I absolutely agree, Michael. The perception of Cameron ‘shying away’ from such situations, such as the live debates, has certainly helped Ed’s cause. If Cameron was however seen to be engaging with voters in a meaningful way, this move could have gone sour.

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