As a former politics student, I love a good general election. It is the rare occasion when politicians, their promises, manifestos, track records and reputations collide. If fact you could say it’s the time when politicians reputations matter the most as their jobs depend on it.
Many people woke up Friday morning to the surprising news that the Conservatives had won an outright majority government.
For months there has been endless chatter about coalitions and multi-party politics. Most of us (myself included) were sold on the idea of another ‘hung parliament’ and the various political possibilities it might hold. It certainly made for very interesting discussion, both in boardrooms and bars, as we all made our predictions about the popularity of smaller parties, Ed Miliband being ‘tough enough’ and who might get in bed with whom to form a government.
Now all of that talk seems old hat but there are still several lessons corporate affairs professionals can learn from the election that can help them build a better reputation.
1. A clear message makes for a clear victory
The Scottish National Party (SNP) rallied people across Scotland and united them under one yellow banner, winning an impressive 56 out of 59 seats.
How? They had a single, simple, clear message – a vote for the SNP is a vote for Scotland.
After the Scottish public voted in overwhelming numbers in the independence referendum it became obvious we had all underestimated the strong sense of national pride in Scotland today, especially post the independence referendum.
The SNP were able to tell a powerful story of how Scottish people still need to stand up to Westminster and have their own say. It gave them real momentum which enabled them to rally voters to their cause and ultimately win a lot of seats.
Businesses can learn from this and begin to think about their own messages. Are they connecting with strong public sentiment and society? What is the story you telling as a result? How can you turn that story into real momentum behind your brand?
2. When given complicated choices many people pick the ‘easy’ option they understand
When confronted with a lot of choices that you don’t fully understand its human nature to stick with what you know and I’ve got a feeling that’s what happened here.
With so much coverage before the election about all of the different parties and endless theorising about coalitions and party deals it became very difficult to understand exactly what parties stood for. With so much choice it was hard to be fully informed about all of the options around all of the issue that mattered.
So although voting for the Greens may have sounded like a good idea, when it came down to it some people might not have felt confident enough about their policies to actually vote for the party.
The Conservatives played a clever game by running a campaign that centred on a few issues that were easy to understand. Stressing the perceived expertise of the Tories, especially on economic management, Cameron presented the electorate with an easy choice – vote for us or suffer from incompetent leadership.
All too often businesses give people too many options and confuse them with mixed messages. Communications professionals can take a leaf out of Cameron’s book and look to add clarity to their communications and present clear choices and differentiate themselves on the topics that stakeholders understand.
3. Don’t have blind faith in the pundits
One of my favourite moments of this election came just after the exit polls were published. I had just got home to see experts frantically try and interpret the ‘shocking’ exit poll data whilst articulating a clever new opinion on something they hadn’t see coming. It made for bad TV but I was entertained for a few moments, smug in the knowledge I was not in their position.
Placing wider issues around polling aside, this highlights the importance of context. Before the election, collective wisdom dictated there would be a hung parliament which set the context for the TV pundits and media experts. When the real picture began to appear the whole debate changed and the pundits were left to trade off their wits for a while.
For businesses context is crucial. Businesses can’t afford to be caught up with the prevailing winds of opinion and miss out on what’s really going on. This is why they need to keep their ear to the ground, through excellent research and foresight, and listen to the voices of all their stakeholders not just those that talk the loudest.
So my three takeaways are:
- Have a clear message
- Give people the easy choice
- Pundits get it wrong so set the right context