5 communications lessons from the General Election

Article published on 10 June 2017

Few events capture a country like a general election. The degree to which a party or politician can communicate their message to voters goes a long way to deciding who wins – both locally and nationally. A thesis could be written on politics in the UK over the past two years – but to keep it brief, we’ve compiled five lessons everyone can take from General Election 2017.

By Steve Walsh

1. Communication matters.

It sounds basic – but bafflingly the importance of communication is frequently overlooked. I’ve even had comms teams tell me that news stories are ‘tomorrow’s chip paper’. Seriously – people who are employed to be experts in that very field essentially saying their job is worthless.

On the campaign trail, the Prime Minister frequently skipped debates, pulled out of interviews and stayed away from the media, presumably thinking a poor performance in front of the cameras would weaken her more than not appearing. She was wrong.

2. You can’t simply tell people what to do.

Ladies and gentleman of the jury, for exhibit A and exhibit B in this particular trial, see the front pages of the Sun and Daily Express from 8th June, which, to paraphrase, simply said ‘YOU THERE – GO AND VOTE CONSERVATIVE. ON OUR ORDERS!’

This isn’t successful PR. This isn’t even advertising. This is blatant ‘we know better than you’ stuff. And everyone who has ever been a child and been told what to do by their parents – and probably rebelled – will tell you it doesn’t work.

3. Facts are king.

If you’re trying to sell something to people, you better know what you’re selling – I’m looking at you, Labour.

Announcing a policy without being able to accurately tell people what it truly is and how much it will cost, isn’t going to convince anyone of your credibility. Quite the opposite in fact.

4. Proper PR is about relationships – and they need to be nurtured.

Back in July 2016, Theresa May ruthlessly sacked then Chancellor, George Osborne, without granting him the compassion of leaving on his own terms publically, even if pushed privately. Her prerogative, and no judgement here on if that’s right or wrong.

Fast-forward to June 2017, George Osborne is editor of the London Evening Standard – and boy would you know it. Osborn sensationally got his own back with some no-holds-barred front pages, and continues to do so. The moral of the story being, if you make enemies of the media – they’ll help make their readers and listeners enemies of yours.

5. Humility and compassion are essential.

When Theresa May spoke outside Downing Street on the afternoon of 9th June in the wake of the completed election count and managed to finish her speech without acknowledging the result, the message that had been delivered by the British public or what she had taken from the night’s events, she became arrogant and delusional in the electorates eyes.

No understanding, no humility, and no compassion for fallen colleagues who lost their seats as MPs because of a dreadful central strategy. Even after the election, when apparently, there was nothing left to lose, she managed to lose a little bit more.

If people don’t believe you have basic values, it doesn’t matter what you choose to communicate, they simply won’t trust you.