How to win the party conference season communications battle
It’s mid-September, and that means back to school, freshers’ week and the roll-out of supermarkets’ Christmas stock. But, most importantly, the political calendar starts to gear up in force for conference season.
It’s the biggest single concentration of decision makers and influencers in the political calendar – a chance to iron out differences, produce clarity on policy and unify the party – and a unique opportunity to showcase your brand and deliver your messages.
But the reality is always somewhat different.
While the parties come together on the day the leader speaks, the other three or four days are a fragmentation of factions within the parties, all with their own communications agenda.
For all the domination of news pages and delegates, groups and party faithful tweeting away, what does this sudden burst of intense communication achieve? What does bombarding people with a myriad of headlines and hashtags actually deliver to the electorate, and does it really have any cut-through?
Already this week we’ve seen the Lib Dems desperately trying to mark out their territory by claiming credit for economic policies and making headline-grabbing announcements such as free school meals for all Key Stage One children.
So what should the parties be doing to make sure that in a few weeks’ time we remember more than #SamCamsoutfit and Theresa May’s #shoes?
Firstly, rather than accepting that it is a communications free-for-all, take a more single-minded approach to influencing the electorate and try to focus around a single theme.
It’s no surprise that still the most memorable conference messages have been the simplest – “Education, Education, Education.”
Wouldn’t it be great if a party could simplify its message and make it easy for people to remember what it is they stand for?
And secondly, whilst social media has, in many ways, exacerbated the problems, a more integrated approach to PR and communications should also be able to provide a real solution to some of the communications issues.
For instance, a three-line whip approach to a # strategy would mean that Twitter, Google+ and Facebook could help them amplify their messages around the chosen focus and potentially expand their reach as they start trending.
Who knows, they might actually be able to unite all their members behind a single-minded clear proposition (or a clear #).
No-one is under any illusions that trying to manage communications around a party conference is akin to the proverbial herding of cats, but whichever of the main three is the most effective, is the one that might gain some momentum in the long countdown to an election. And the one that might just get my vote.