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Navigating an election year: challenges and opportunities to influence

As we settle into 2024, we know that we’ll have a general election in the UK this year. And that’s where the certainty of the political landscape comes to an end. Without a date confirmed for the election, we’re in a political holding pattern.

Though most polls are forecasting a change in government following the election, party responses to external factors, such as responses to the crisis in Gaza, are making the outcome less clear-cut (and we all know polls haven’t been overly reliable the last decade).

This, combined with the restrictions of purdah, results in a volatile situation, in an already unpredictable political landscape. It also reduces the potential for impact and change, as party leaders and members stick to ‘safe’ decision making to drive more votes at polling stations.

As a result, organisations across the country will need to be strategic in bringing about change in 2024, by employing an alternative influencing strategy. Whilst the intricacies will be dependent on the business type and the change it wants to see, there are key overarching opportunities which everyone should be looking at:

  1. Don’t ignore the impact an awareness raising campaign can have
    Every type of campaign has its purpose and place. But it’s crucial that organisations don’t ignore the impact an awareness raising campaign targeted at the general public can have when attempting to create change.

    Take the recent work done on the Horizon scandal to coincide with ITV’s launch of Mr Bates vs The Post Office. Things have moved quickly since the issue was brought back into public consciousness. The Post Office chair has resigned, the ex-Post Office boss is handing over their CBE, the Scottish Government is looking into a pardon scheme for the victims, and the UK Government is looking at a new law to overturn convictions. This change happened because of the pressure from the general public, who took the issue on as their own, signed petitions, and demanded justice. When the general public gets behind your cause, it’s much harder for politicians to ignore the issue and more likely to create change, especially at election time.

  2. The power of (the right) partnerships
    With uncertainty over who will be in government by the end of 2024, instead of using resource to influence current Ministers, get a respected brand on board.

    As well as supporting you in pressuring for change, an authentic brand partnership allows for more touchpoints, and ultimately more opportunities to raise awareness and change behaviour. A great example of the use of meaningful partnerships to change policy is the Free Periods campaign, led by activist Amika George. The campaign advocated for free menstrual products in schools, and partnered with organisations including Always, ActionAid, and Girlguiding. The efforts of this campaign contributed to the UK government’s commitment to providing free menstrual products in all primary and secondary schools in England.

  3. Get to the crux of the change you want to see
    This uncertainty in the political sphere is an opportunity for you to be ruthlessly strategic in the change you want to see. By stripping away the distractions, and getting to the core of what you’re trying to achieve, you can build back an alternative influencing strategy, directly laddering up to this objective, without falling back into patterns of work, and contacts you’ve used, year-on-year.

  4. Understanding your audience
    We are amidst a cost-of-living crisis, and people’s lives are being impacted significantly on a day-to-day basis. You must understand your audience, what they are worried about, and how supporting you will help to bring about a positive change in their lives. In doing this, you’ll garner support for your cause.

  5. Targeting ‘safe’ seats and courting both sides of the aisle
    Whilst election results are uncertain at the best of times, there are some campaigns that you will ultimately still need to seek political influence for to create an impact. For those, there’s an opportunity to court MPs who are in ‘safe’ seats, and also ensuring you are courting both sides of the aisle when it comes to influencing government.

  6. Mapping your sector
    Whilst the ministerial positions may be up for grabs this year, routes to influence, like unions, societies, trusts, and think tanks, are more certain. Map the ecosystem of your sector and highlight the points where you can have greatest impact. For example, if the change you want to see is in a type of healthcare treatment, mapping the ecosystem from research and diagnosis to treatment pathways enables you to target key stakeholders that can bring about change.

  7. Diversifying your channels
    Fundamentally, this uncertainty is expected to continue and so it’s integral to futureproof your strategy. By combining multiple channels and avenues to create change, you’ll have a strategy that’s flexible and responsive, as it’ll inevitably need to be!

Whilst there’s not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to influencing strategy, we’ve been in a volatile political landscape for some time. Even when this year’s general election is decided, we’re likely to see continued turmoil. It’s more important than ever that brands, organisations, businesses, and charities develop an alternative influencing strategy that results in change, regardless of the political landscape.

Written by Cait Dacey, senior account director at PR agency Stand.

Read what a new government could mean for PR here.

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