Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Political PR - between blunders and success

"Politics is war without bloodshed, while war is politics with bloodshed" - Mao Zedong 

Our debate this week, which was, in my opinion, one of the best we've had so far, focused on whether “Political PR has undermined public trust in politicians and is the single biggest threat to our democratic health.”
It's not far-fetched at all for such a negative connotations to exist around political PR, especially since the term if formed by two words that denominate professions with severe image problems. And, as in the case of PR (couldn't really say this about politics as well, but then again that is not my field), a lot of it is due to misconceptions and misperceptions. This is not to say that there isn't any truth in the critics raised to the profession and some of its less ethical practices.

I'm not going to go into the controversial issues surrounding political PR and the Iraqi of Afghan war for example; certainly bad things happened there, lies were told that were uncovered and made the public lose trust in politicians and PR played a huge role in all of it. There is no denying any of that. But that can't be all that we reduce political PR to.

Political PR could represent a good starting point for engaging governments into two-way communications with their audiences - the people who elect members of Parliament, Prim-Ministers and Presidents, and ultimately suffer the consequences of those people's decisions, whether good or bad. Voters want to be better informed and to feel more involved in the election process, and political PR can help them better understand the candidates and their messages; this also means that the messages would become much better targeted at the correctly identified audiences.

Social media is also a factor to be considered in this discussion, as it is view by many as the foundation of a new, extremely transparent two-way communication model; and governments, political parties and candidates have began making use of it, some very well and some not so well, in their dialogue with the voters. The rapid, direct feedback obtained through the use of social media channels can help politicians better understand communities' needs and requirements. And the community members will feel that they are being listened to, not just talked at.

For me, in the debate, it was the team arguing against the statement that brought stronger and more to the point arguments in their quest to prove the political PR can also prove to be very valuable and useful within the democratic mechanism of a country.

This topic also led us to an interesting discussion surrounding the 2008 US elections, which proved to be quite revolutionary in terms of techniques and platforms used, and how they might influence the upcoming 2010 UK elections. Obama has been called the 'Twitter president' and his team's use of web 2.0 strategies during the elections, apart from innovative and revolutionary, have played a huge role in getting him in the position that he holds today. Now, as the British elections tend to follow the American campaigning patters, we were all expecting to see how Cameron & co use the social web. So far I would say they aren't getting very far. Maybe they are not using it properly or the public is not as receptive to it - either way social media hasn't given any of the candidates a clear advantage so far, nor has it been an integral part of their campaigns. My guess is that the first scenario is more likely, as most Twitter activity so far has been focused on making attacks against the opponents and defending themselves from their attacks.

All in all, UK candidates have not been as successful at implementing social media strategies and it would seem that, for now, the 2008 US elections and Obama's campaign and the tools used to gather votes, in particular, will remain a singular benchmark moment in the history of modern elections.

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