Ganapathy Viswanathan
Guest Article

Political campaigns are always a challenge! How can PR agencies partner them?

Our guest author delves into political PR, unveiling the challenges faced by agencies in steering campaigns and establishing credibility.

The major national elections are scheduled and political parties must be planning to work with some PR consultants to paint a good image before the voting.

The role of PR will help and play an immense role across the country, especially in the smaller towns where it can help build some credibility although the voters are quite aware and have their own perceptions about the various political parties.

It is a huge challenge to handle any political party campaign be it advertising or PR as one has to deal with multiple leaders at various levels and at different hierarchies. Even PR agencies will always be cautious about signing a political party account as it demands 24x7 service with adequate machinery who has to be on their toes and be agile by monitoring and tracking news by the hour to get some valuable insights for the campaign and messaging.

Political parties normally appoint a campaign committee that will be given the sole responsibility to deal with agencies.

They lay out certain rules and broadly they will try to be within the boundaries of the election manifesto. Most big political parties have their own PR cell who have fairly good contacts with the media but when it comes to a national election which voluminous to handle a role of PR agency will really strengthen their position to professionally handle the communication strategy using the latest technology tools for research to cull out insights and get the correct messaging in the right media.

A political campaign is like any other FMCG campaign, as at the end of the day you are talking to a consumer who is a voter. However, while there will be an overall theme for the party at the national level you still have to tweak your campaigns in each region based on the sentiments in each state in their local language.

For the last elections, there was social media but it was traditional media that still played a lead role. But this election with the rapid penetration of the internet the role of social media will be far more intense in terms of voter engagement.

So, the entire media strategy here will be much different from what we saw in the last elections. You would need a strong media cell that can devise a razor-sharp media strategy to get more eyeballs.

So here are my thoughts as to what PR companies should know and follow if they are planning to work for a political party. Remember normally this will be only for a short period like a project and you cannot expect them to be on an annual retainer as one is not sure what will happen after the election results come out.

1. Ensure that you get a written brief with clearly defined objectives from the team with whom you are going to work. Ensure that you have one point contact to channel all information from the party.

2. Right at the start you have to decide on who will be the spokesperson for the party and ensure that he or she is well-trained to talk to the media with confidence.

3. From the agency side you should have a dedicated team to handle the business and all of them should have their ears and eyes grounded to know what’s happening around the political environment across the nation.

4. You will need a dedicated research team to continuously provide insights for the overall and tactical messaging from time to time. The team should also be well versed in writing speeches as that forms an important communication tool in elections.

5. The language cell has to be well-equipped to get the right messaging in the regional towns. Smaller towns are big for political parties.

6. A crisis can erupt at any time. So, ensure that you have a good crisis team and you must frame a set of rules that you will follow to handle the crisis which you need to get approved by the party spokesperson.

7. Constantly be in touch with the journalists and keep pumping him useful and relevant information which will help the party.

8. The political parties are also usually strong with certain media. This you need to understand right at the beginning and handle it carefully without hurting the ego of the leader at the party end.

9. Stay connected with the party officials continuously throughout the day to know if they have some new insights that they can share. At grassroots levels, they have workers who will share tits and bits from each state.

10. What process or method should be followed to measure the impact of PR for the campaign and various activities should be agreed upon right at the beginning? But most of these parties will look at the volume of clippings to know if it is reaching everyone with the desired messaging.

Handling a political account is far different from handling a government account. You need a different approach as your communication strategy has to be very sharp, quick, and focussed and should touch the emotional chord of the voter who is young and old.

You also need to be clear about your commercial process and ensure that you talk it over right at the beginning of your financial terms. The fear of not getting your money which has been the fear of many agencies has forced many agencies to stay away from handling political campaigns.

This is something the management has to think about beforehand, before accepting the business. While the monies could be good there is also an element of risk you need to foresee.

(Our guest author is Ganapathy Viswanathan, independent communication consultant)

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