Many businesses we talk to on a day-to-day basis, much like the vast majority of the rest of the country, fail to take much notice of the General Election campaign. Most will have an appreciation of a few key issues that may affect their sector directly but, these aside, the campaign is a lot of noise without much relevance.
There is actually a lot business can learn from an election. Over the coming week we will outline a few of the lessons corporate communications teams can learn from the political parties.
Very few companies worldwide will ever experience the intensity of the glare of publicity a General Election provides. I worked for five years in the Conservative Press Office including through the 2005 election campaign and, during this time, we had one over-riding rule: Speed Kills. This isn’t a piece of road safety advice but instead the mantra all communications departments should live their lives by. Without this a story can very quickly build momentum and get away from you; damaging your corporate reputation.
With the added scrutiny of an election campaign the speed kills rule becomes even more crucial to successful delivery of your campaign messages. For campaign messages read corporate messages.
Negative stories need to be jumped on as soon as they break, if possible you will be the ones calling up journalists telling them of a story that may be coming their way and why they should ignore it. Get your rebuttal in first. By the same token, to achieve the desired cut through of a news story, the team needs to communicate to the media with unrelenting forcefulness and speed so journalists have no chance to be swayed by external audiences – such as your opposition. Journalists don’t like to miss a story – their editor has a tendency to shout at them – which is why the media move as a pack. If you can influence that pack mentality your story will be a success – more of this in a later post.
To operate a fleet-of-foot, fully functioning, agile and effective communications team it is essential to avoid decision making by committee. When the pressure mounts it is vital that people know who to turn to and where the buck stops. Press release by committee is a sure way to see your messages become diluted. A lack of leadership will lead to drift as has been the criticism of Labour’s election campaign so far. Both of these will ultimately undermine your chances of getting your message across or shaping the story – in political language knowing what you stand for.
With this very much in mind all communications departments should have up-to-date crisis and social media protocols in place. If the media do turn their scrutiny onto your business you should be ready to deal with it quickly and without fuss. If these protocols are in place then an issue is far less likely to become a crisis.
The issuing of a press release has never been sufficient to ensure the media, and ultimately your target audiences, hear your story. This is even truer today as the news cycle is replaced by a relentless news-stream and newspaper readership declines. The need to embrace every possible communication tool in a concerted tactical push to get your message across is the only way you can hope to cut through all other chatter.
As an example of the kind of intensive communications model businesses should look to copy when making proactive announcements, here is a short list of activity a political party take to successfully push a news story during the General Election. All this will be underpinned by a full monitoring operation of all national and regional media as well as influential blogs and supporting activity via social media such as Twitter:
- D-1: Brief newspapers and broadcasters of next day’s theme
- D-1: Brief next day’s evening papers overnight to secure coverage in first editions
- 7-9am: Morning broadcast round to trail announcement and get into news headlines for morning drive time radio shows
- 7am: One or two key bloggers briefed
- 7:30am and throughout day: Counter opponent’s rebuttal of your announcement
- 8:30am: News conference at campaign HQ leading with today’s theme
- 8:30am: Press release sent out and rung around all media not attending news conference
- 9am: Video posted on in-house website and distributed to broadcasters
- 9-10am: Second broadcast round targeting 24 hour news programmes
- 10:30-11:30am: Leader of party makes visit to illustrate story (e.g School if education story)
- 11am: Begin briefing of key media opinion leaders
- 12-2pm: Third broadcast round targeting 24 hour news programmes and lunchtime bulletins
- 2:30pm: Second key visit by party leader to illustrate story
- 2:30pm: Release new campaign poster [ illustrating new announcement
- 4pm-5pm: Fourth broadcast round targeting evening drive time programmes
- 3:00-9pm: Briefing of senior broadcast correspondents responsible for evening news packages
There are many more activities that will be going on at the same time, not least man-marking what your opponents are doing. Above all one mantra drives your activity throughout the campaign and should be the watchword for any good communication strategy: SPEED KILLS.