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Elections – which way to look?
DHR News, Featured, Opinion, Political Communications | 5th May 2015

Our Managing Director, Catherine Heaney, shares her thoughts on election strategies in the UK and USA…

Our election strategists don’t know which way to look.

Across the water, Nick Clegg puts on an apron and gets painting at an adult education centre. The week before he was abseiling.  The photocall which captured George Osbourne putting the happy face on a Henry hoover was particularly upsetting for the media (they had to travel all the way to Somerset to watch his assembly skills).  Then there was Sam Cam painting a fence and David Miliband gesticulating uncontrollably to controlled (and selected) audiences.

The media members among our close neighbours are getting cross.  They feel the election campaign is contrived and light-touch.  Marina Hyde (one of my favourite columnists, so I hate to see her cross) is disillusioned by all those trips to empty warehouses in the middle of nowhere.  They are, apparently, the preferred location by the strategists for media opportunities.  Well away from the public.  Even the workers are sent home for the day when the politicians arrive.

Australian political columnist, David Marr, is on the UK campaign trail.  He’s taken aback by the lack of apparent excitement and political engagement among the electorate (not entirely a new phenomenon, though he is a seasoned hack and should know that).  It’s as if, he put it, ‘a kingdom is a stake – and nobody south of the Tweed seems to care’.

But the political disconnection is deliberate, or so Marina thinks. The Gordon Brown lapel mic incident of 2010 has left a deep imprint. Getting down and dirty with the electorate risks political annihilation. Red lights will flash for decades in the minds of the strategists when they think of a public-meets-politician encounter in the glare of the media.

Meantime, our own election strategists (who are busy taking notes for our own showdown next year) can also turn to look across the big pond.  There’s Hilary connecting with the people like she never did before.  She by-passed the media to launch her candidacy through a single, self-generated tweet. She was practically bypassed by her own launch video.  It was all about the people. You (if you’re a US citizen).

After signing off her tweet (note: the ones with a ‘H’ are self-authored, the rest are from her Twitter machine), Hilary took to the road.  Rooms and halls are filled with people.  People like you (though, careful planning and selection might inform audiences).   The media are among the people.  No special trip to an empty warehouse.  They stand there with the people at arm’s (or many arms’ and steel gates’) length from the former first lady.

And while the tactics on both sides of our island seem polls apart, there’s one thing in common.  The media is being controlled like never before.

So how will it play out when the election bell rings off here next spring?  With water bombs, eggs, effective hostage-taking of our politicians, control will reign.  But will it be Hilary-style, or the style favoured by our near neighbours?

Some might even risk the Gordon Brown walkabout (media in toe).  After all, in the haze of contrived photocalls, it’s working for the impressive Chuka Umunna.  They call him the next Obama.

The UK elections of 2020 are already looking exciting.  And maybe, by then, Michelle will have webcast her intentions from a vegetable patch somewhere in Michigan.

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