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8 tips for political communicators

More Fire PR was recently asked to speak on BBC Radio about PR and communication challenges for politicians as voters go to the ballot for today’s (2 May 2013) Northamptonshire County Council elections.

One of the big issues arising were complaints from would-be voters that they knew little or nothing about who the candidates are and what they stand for, with many citing a lack of visible information and detail.
There are very real challenges for politicians when it comes to capturing people’s attention, getting a message across and circumnavigating voter apathy, so here follows our eight-point plan for communicating in an election.

1. Plan ahead

Like any blossoming relationship it takes time and effort to build an engaged network of supporters. Plan ahead, communicate your position frequently, and keep to the point. Don’t start campaigning two weeks before an election and then act surprised when voters aren’t ‘on message’.

2. Who are you talking to?

Always think audience first. There’s no such thing as the ‘general public’. You could be speaking to people who are elderly, middle-aged, single, married, parents, disabled, facing a localised problem… the list goes on. Make sure the issues you’re focussed on matter to them.

3. Liar, liar

A fundamental rule of effective PR is to get your facts straight and tell the truth. Yes, politicians often have a bad reputation on this front, so strive to change that impression. Being well informed and accurate will make a marked difference to voters.

4. What’s the message?

Your message is all important and you have to address two key issues that matter to your audiences – ‘So what?’ and ‘What’s in it for me?’. If you can’t capture attention in the first few moments by highlighting why your message matters, you’ve lost them.

5. Don’t overcomplicate

Be clear, concise and to the point. Former BBC director General Greg Dyke famously cut through bureaucratic meetings by holding up a sign reading ‘Cut the crap!’ to give all present a sharp reminder if they drifted off-topic.

6. Stand out

If you agree with your fellow candidates on all of the central issues why should anyone vote for you? Find your points of difference, explain why they matter and stick to your guns.

7. Listen

If voters don’t have a chance to get their point across or believe their opinion makes no difference, they sink into apathy. Create regular opportunities where people can have their say and act where appropriate.

8. Mix and match media

Politicians constantly argue that they want younger people to participate in the political process, and then refuse to use Twitter or Facebook. Understand how your audiences receive their information and match your message to appropriate media, whether it’s through local press, posters, leaflets, radio, the web, volunteers, or events.

Voters complained they knew nothing about the candidates

  1. Plan ahead
  2. Who are you talking to?
  3. Liar, liar
  4. What’s the message?
  5. Don’t overcomplicate
  6. Stand out
  7. Listen
  8. Mix and match media

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/