Some professional PR wouldn’t go amiss

So the #GE17 campaign continues and I’ve a note in my diary to vote on 8 June. I’ve got a dose of electionitis – it’s all a bit dull to be honest. However, I have noticed some Parties and people having a some communications issues.

There has been more than one amateurish error made.

Political PR is one of those seemingly dark areas. It’s easy to label Party comms people as spin doctors, with the implication that it’s all misinformation and untruths.

I can’t speak for others, but, speaking as a professional, this description of PR couldn’t be farther from the truth.

There are a few basics that any organisation should have in place – here are some of my top tips.

Know your audience

Identify who you want to speak to. This will help you focus your message. Of course it explains why I turn the radio off when particular political reps start talking. What they are saying doesn’t appeal to my values, but then, I’m not their target voter.

Understand the media

In the words of George Orwell “journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is just public relations. ”

Don’t blame the media for reporting your gaffes or cover ups or something you don’t want reported. It’s not fake news if it’s actually true.

Have an approval process in place

A sign-off process for press statements is fundamental. A professional comms person would never issue a spokesperson quote on behalf of a Party without approval from, say, the Party leader. The same applies to social media posts on your behalf.

If someone does issue something without approval, it’s time to let them go.

Do your homework

Before every media interview practice, practice, practice. Your professional comms person should have done their homework and come up with a list of potential questions.

Of course there are the obvious questions such as ‘how much is it all going to cost’. No one should claim that is unexplainable when you go on the biggest show in the country. A good PR will know you should know ‘how much is a pint of milk?’. Likewise, they will likely discuss with you potential word association games and how not to fall foul of ‘one final question.’

Most importantly, a professional communications / media officer / PR / whatever officer in any organisation, political or otherwise, should urge you to be open and transparent.

There is no excuse for spin, lies and mistruths.

Sara McCracken works in communications for an educational body. She previously worked for the Green Party for #AE16 and in the health sector.

  • Jag

    I listened to the DUP on the Nolan Show this morning. It fell to Simon Hamilton to sit in the hot chair to defend his party ahead of Thursday’s election. The DUP was grilled for 28 minutes (should have been 25, but the programme overran).

    The host, Stephen Nolan said the DUP was unique in only offering 25 minutes whilst all the other parties made themselves available for an hour.

    Be interested to understand the PR rationale for limiting your platform on a radio programme with an audience of around 140,000, which is around 12% of the electorate, and around 18% of those who actually vote. The Shinners had a full hour. How much would they pay for a 30 minute radio ad? Was the DUP position to avoid gaffes? Was it to allow you to talk down the clock more easily?

  • ted hagan

    My experience of PR and the people in it is that it’s rarely about ‘truth’ and more about evasion.

  • Msiegnaro

    There is some merit in proclaiming the Unionism does not always get the fairest hearing via the media and it was right for the DUP in this instance to limit its time on the Nolan show. A example is the endorsement of the Loyalist group in relation to four Unionist candidates, however Sean Kelly the Shankhill bomber and Ronan Bennett who murdered a police officer yet there is not even a whimper about this within the media. I also find the string of negative Unionist topics on Slugger disappointing.

  • ted hagan

    Ronan Bennett’s murder conviction was declared unsafe and he was freed.
    You would be best advised to moderate your remark.
    Incidentally, I’m not sure what point your post was making anyway.

  • Granni Trixie

    Correction. Whilst I am no admirer of Ronan Bennet there is no way on earth you could compare him to a convicted murderer. (Bennet was accused but never convicted). Also you omitted to say that these Loyalists asked people not to vote for Alliance.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Surely using SF as a moral bar is a very, very low standard?

    If the DUP are being endorsed by the UDA then this can be examined in its own right and thought of as either right or wrong.

    What SF get up to (or get away with) should have no bearing on a simple matter of right/wrong.

    The DUP supporters on here laud the DUP for their ‘moral’ stance. Accepting the endorsement of the northern mafia is hardly a moral virtue.

  • Neonlights

    “having a some communications issues” indeed :p

  • Gopher

    I think the PR thing in Northern Ireland is for people who have watched too much West Wing. PR in Northern Ireland is getting yourself and your base to shut up.

  • John Collins

    You so right. I often feel if organisations put the same time, resources and energy into dealing with problems, rather that paying experts at ‘answering’ questions while saying nothing and using cliches, like ‘oh we cant comment on individual cases’, society would be far better served.

  • Jag

    Hah! Maybe she meant “awesome”…

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    While I agree with your point I think the spirit of the OP is about avoiding the catastrophic gaffes which some of our local politicos can’t avoid/evade. Because the 2 ends of our political spectrum are only concerned with alienating the other and tub thumping to the lifelong converted a few very rudimentary and unsophisticated PR basics should be deployed before some polarised political parties and candidates render themselves into oblivion.

  • ted hagan

    IT certainly didn’t work with the RHI scandal. The PR guys only managed to make things worse.

  • ted hagan

    I ask again, how has Ronan Bennett, who is a successful author, got ‘links to paramilitaries’, which is a very dangerous accusation, and what exactly are you trying to say?

  • grumpy oul man

    The DUP take support from terrorists.
    Is your argument that two wrongs make a right.
    While i certainty understand how people react to kelly it has to be said that he is a former terrorist and the UDA are still active.
    This is a important difference.
    I know nothing about Ronan Bennett so could you elobarate on his paramilitary connections. Is he connected to active terrorists.
    The unionist responces on this thread to the largest unionist party’s links with murderers and drug dealers is full proof of their amazing hypocrisy.
    Just a few days ago the same people who where castigating Corbyn for meeting MMG 30 years ago are defending the DUP for working with terrorists today.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    NO, its about getting those who agree with you to be personally aware that they do, and persuading those who clearly don’t that there is enough common ground for them to “buy your product.” It’s also about neutralising any feelings of disagreement in whatever quarter. It’s not about logical argument but about pressing psychological switches to ensure positive reactions.

    It has been SFs clear skill with PR which ensures that even their natural opponents in our community are persuaded to see enough pooled interests to sometimes vote for them, and it ensures strong support for their “reasonableness” over the water, even in Conservative circles. Unionism thinks their (erroneous) self perception as the “bluff honest Ulsterman”, combined with their all too obvious efforts at publicly blindsiding or playing down those numerous issues on which they simply mirror SF does the trick. Their failure to even begin to understand marketing techniques ensures that they are increasingly preaching to the converted within the wagon circle and publicly moaning to anyone who will listen with a straight face about SFs international successes.

  • ted hagan

    Well yes that’s very true. But also true is that one tribe doesn’t ‘do’ nuance, while the other does it expertly and with ease.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    Please give us some ideas for ‘positive unionist topics’ – I’m struggling here.
    I think it would be a great and very positive unionist topic to discuss how unionists are in favour of having the same rights re minority indigenous languages in NI (re Irish) as exist in other parts of the UK re Gaidhlig and Welsh. Or how unionists are all for extending same sex marriage to NI seeing as these rights are already in place in England, Scotland and Wales. Generally, it would be a really positive unionist topic to be able to discuss how unionists are for an equal union in all parts of the UK and against denying the rights available to all other parts to people in NI for no good reason. Unfortunately, due to unionists blinkered attitude to the union, this is impossible at present.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Spot on Seaan, I hope some unionist politician reads that comment.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I keep telling them, AG, “contact John Hegarty”…..

    He’ll cost, big time, but “nobody, but nobody does it better….”.(and that’s from working with him on selling product close up).

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ted, your comment about Unionist character vs SF brings to mind the old saw (regarding pre-1922 Ireland) about slow phlegmatic thinkers governing quick intelligent minds …

    Seriously, though, a good marketing company would be able to craft something which sounded recognisably “Unionist” but would touch the buttons outside of Unionism’s core support. Good heavens, man even I could do it!!! Its just this lack of serious professionalism in modern Unionist politics scuppers them, something which would send all their 1880/1920s ancestors (the ones I always criticise) crawling up the walls at the short-sighted smugness which underpins their descendants refusal to look at marketing realities. I think, of course, their ancestors were entirely wrong, but recognise that they would never have been so so careless about how they presented themselves to “real people”……

  • Reader

    ted hagan: “You would be best advised to moderate your remark.”
    Technically, maybe not. The test for a criminal conviction is “beyond reasonable doubt”, whereas if it came to a libel case the test would be “balance of probabilities”. Prominent republicans have tripped over that distinction in the past.
    Although it strikes me that you may feel Msiegnaro has put himself in physical danger. Was that it?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    That’s because they were “amateurs.” Unionism does not appear to know where to look for real expertise, and seems to be looking “in house.” SPADs are usually researchers with University degrees, but none of the professional marketing experience which any genuine PR work requires whatsoever. Its the professional equivalent of just getting your cousin to do the PR, no harm to any of them.