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PR Observations: Ready, set, election!!

Back when the Labour party was last in government there was a sketch show called ‘Big Train’. In one of its more enduring skits a young Simon Pegg – pre getting first-hand lessons from Tom Cruise – played a sprinter that couldn’t react to a starting pistol.

“If you don’t delay, you’re gonna be an Olympic gold medallist,” he was told. Eventually, he nailed it… and ran in a zigzag all the way up the track.

As dear wee Rishi Sunak ambled confidently out to call the election it seemed more than likely that he’d been through a similar experience. His comms team had looked at the tealeaves, read the runes, and concluded that things could only get worser. It made sense, they would’ve told him, to use the only arrow left in his quiver: the one marked ‘first mover advantage, element of surprise’. Set the agenda, my right honourable Rishi.

But instead of sashaying out with an aura of The Wolf of Downing Street, Sunak was lightly drenched while the theme tune to New Labour played audibly in the background. It wasn’t a complete PR disaster – his tailor and hairdresser’s reputation were significantly boosted – but it certainly wasn’t an Olympic gold medal performance either. Like Eric the Eel: at least he took part.

The aforementioned Eric Moussambani had a quiet dignity about his efforts in the Olympic pool, something abandoned by paddle-boarding, water-sliding, funtime Ed Davey. The Lib Dem leader’s PR team seems to have taken the view that having a good time, with occasional staged pratfalls, is preferable to whatever the Tory strategy is, and preferable to the Labour strategy of saying as little as possible (sensible, unquestionably, but also truly dull).

One Labour thing I did note was the trumpeting of its TikTok stats. To come back to the aquatic theme, they’re blowing the Tories out of the water. A little look at UK demographics for the platform, though, shows 76% of users are 15-24. That means they either can’t vote or are very unlikely to. It’s not exactly a Moneyball victory…

Back in the days of Big Train, whatever your feelings about the Blair and Cameron election wins, there was an admirable slickness to their operations. There was something right-on about the way they presented themselves, like a penguin in a tuxedo competition. Perhaps things will tighten-up, but the first week or so of campaigning this year has felt more like Mr Blobby in a Mr Blobby competition. They’re feeling their way around, careering into supermarket displays, eating cue cards. It’s all very watchable, but is it any good?]

This PR Observations column was written by David Quainton, head of communications at the digital consultancy Emergn. The opinions are his own.

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