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Francis Ingham: My takeaway for the communications sector from this election result
Here we go again then, eh?
Twitter shrieks in horror. Metropolitan dinner party guests reach for their Sancerre. Liberal editors scratch their heads. And they all say that next time it’ll be different.
Now let me get this out of the way at the beginning. I am a Conservative (or as people who don’t like Conservatives will say, a Tory). I’ve been a member of this party since 1992 -when I was 16. So I am unquestionably biased.
But I am also Director General of the world’s largest PR body, and I believe that I am able to take an objective view of comms issues. I’ve praised many campaigns that have won that I’ve disagreed with; and condemned the failing of an equal number of campaigns that I’ve supported but have been delivered badly.
So here’s my take on tonight’s result. And it’s simple.
It was 100% predictable from the moment it was called. At that point, I tweeted that the Conservatives would win 361 seats. As I type, the IpsosMori poll says it’ll be 368. Either of those numbers represent an enormous, and popularly unexpected win.
And I should say that when we polled PRCA members, they predicted a result of 333 Conservative seats, and 228 Labour ones. Not perfectly and exactly on the money, but pretty close, and frankly a lot closer (like last time) than the polling companies.
So what can we learn from this?
First, we should learn from the past.
There are far, far too many people in the Westminster bubble who inevitably set the tone, and who cannot see outside of the bubble. Their issues are not always the public’s issues. And whatever your personal views, let’s be clear -the journalistic, lobbying and PR communities are biased towards the ‘centre’.
So as I say -here we go again. Because we have been here before. Brexit. Trump. Predicted by some (and yes, to be shameless, me too). Discounted by ‘experts’. So what as communicators can we learnt from this?
First and most importantly this. If there is a key, dominantissue, it normally trumps all of the other together. ‘It’s the economic stupid’ in the words of Clinton. Or as one might interpret it -if you can’t shift the central issue from being the central issue, then you lose.
Well let’s be clear. Labour tried to shift the election away from Brexit, and failed. And having done so, it lost. So lesson one: if one issue dominates and you can’t hit it or win on it, then you lose.
Then the others.
Second, it is true that neither social media is King; nor that print media is Queen (or vice-versa).
The echo chambers have consolidated themselves. Newspapers change views less and less. They reflect their readers’ views more and more. Why? Not because their editorials have changed (The Mirror normally said vote Labour; the Mail, vote Tory, but plenty of their readers ignored it). But because people pick their papers more and more according to their own view. And the same is true to an even greater extent on social media. And much easier to pick and choose actually.
And third. And here frankly is the tricky bit. It’s about truth.
I bow to nobody in the industry in my belief in industry ethicsand professionalism. Having had so many physical threatsagainst myself and the people I love to pressurise me to not do the right thing, I feel on solid ground here. So…..
We need to choose our battles intelligently.
When I have seen twitter go mad -almost literally mad- about political claims, I have often frankly shrugged. The naivety is astonishing.
Political parties trade view, claims, boasts, insults, and promises. They do so repeatedly and fervently. And some people who take issue with the aims of their opponents go wild with indignation at this.
But here’s my view. The public is frankly often more sophisticated, reasonable, and sensible than the commentariatthat speaks to them. They are more discerning than the people who mock them for their gullibility. And this happens repeatedly -the astonished expert when things have gone the way they did not consider even possible.
So here’s the rub.
Our industry says this so often. We say that we need to listen to the people to whom we speak; the society with whom we interact.
We need to ask ourselves this: why are we so often so out of touch?
So can I beg our industry: tomorrow, rather than saying ‘what on earth happened?’; can we ask ‘how do we change our instincts?’.
Francis Ingham is the director general of the PRCA
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