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All Change Please: What a new government will mean for PR

If you are a betting person, according to bookmakers Paddy Power, the odds are that Labour will win the next general election.  So what does this mean for PR, and how should PRs prepare now? Agency leaders discuss the implications and how to prepare for a change in government. We also analyse how one PR sector in particular, property, will be impacted.

Post-election fall out

PR ramifications could be vast

Hamish Campbell-Shore, public affairs account manager at PR firm The PHA Group: A change in government would likely have policy and legislative implications for businesses across the economy and in turn clients spanning public affairs, corporate communications and consumer PR agencies.

“The Labour Party conference highlighted that the party was willing to do battle over net-zero targets which will go to the heart of many businesses, and PRs must be prepared to put strategies in place to protect the reputation of and enhance the opportunity for clients to thrive out of policy development.

“Alongside reforms to healthcare and new policy relating to the economy, PRs must be across the detail and understand the impact a change of government will have for our clients’ bottom lines and reputations.

“The ramifications of a change in government for the industry could be vast and will see new sectors emerge as opportunities for growth for businesses, and a new set of policies to engage with on behalf of our clients.”

It will be PR gold

Harriet Subramanian, managing director, of agency Flourish PR: “National elections and new governments should be considered PR gold. This is because it brings opportunities for PRs to showcase their talent and flex their creative muscle whether you cover public affairs or not. Each industry sector has its own relationship and requirements from central government, and therefore agencies and in-house teams need to be planning and reflecting on what the potential impact of a change of government could be for their organisation, sector, and industry.

“How can you capitalise on a change of government? What if there is no change? What potential scenarios and outcomes do you need to prepare for? These are just three questions to get the conversation flowing with management teams, and they are the tip of the iceberg. A change of government and the run up to an election provide an excellent platform for agency and in-house PR teams alike to share their expertise with clients or the business they work in.”

How PR should prepare now

Focus on key issues

Stuart Bruce, founder of issues management consultancy Stuart Bruce Associates and co-founder of AI and communications technology consultancy Purposeful Relations: “Harold Wilson said a week is a long time in politics so we shouldn't make an assumption there will be a change of government. However, it would be foolish not to plan for it. We don't know the timing of the general election. The sources I have are split between May or October next year. A change of government won't just impact those working in public affairs or corporate affairs. The missions Labour has already announced and the policy ideas shadow ministers have talked about give lots of clues about the impact on lots of industry sectors.

“When planning campaigns for next year then there needs to be an awareness and understanding of what the potential issues and changes will be. Because we don't know the timing it's unlikey to change the day to day, but if it's an early election then the contents of the recent King's Speech will impact on all aspects of public relations and communications if they touch on that sector. It could be anything from electric vehicles to consumer packaged goods and fashion. My advice is that those who do consumer or B2B communications need to be briefed by experts on what is already known that might effect their sectors.

“We are finding that those who are most interested in our briefings are mid-size companies who don't have large or dedicated public affairs functions or external consultancies. The other is public affairs teams who don't have a lot of Labour specific knowledge and experience so can do the research but can't necessarily interpret it or overlay it with additional knowledge.”

Maximise spokespeople

Louise Kitchingham, policy comms VP, at digital marketing and comms agency Clarity Global: As the UK gears up for a general election, organisations’ communications strategies will alter their focus as the news agenda ramps up. With increasing media focus on Labour’s manifesto, clients have a wide range of policy topics to weave into their messaging. We are bringing a focus on policy communications into C-suite thought leadership to ensure we are prepared to maximise profiling opportunities for clients whilst aligning with policy and public affairs objectives.

“There are benefits of strong links with the likely incoming Labour government, but the messaging needs to resonate with the relevant stakeholders to have the desired impact. 

“A change in government provides not just opportunities for corporate communications and public affairs professionals to engage with MPs and government, but also for those working across the full communications spectrum, giving PRs a chance to maximise spokespeople and influence the news agenda on the big priority areas.”

Map current and emerging influencers

Elspeth Rothwell, EMEA CEO of marketing and communications consultancy Vested: “Planning ahead and understanding how the regulatory and political landscape may change is critical for anyone working in public relations. From mapping current and emerging influencers and establishing future relationships today, to understanding potential policy risks and shifts - and scenario planning accordingly. Thinking about the impact on both an organisation and its audiences is key to building impactful, relevant programmes that achieve an organisation’s strategic goals."

Reflect hope and optimism

John Higginson, founder and CEO of public affairs firm Higginson Strategy: “Public affairs firms like ours have been preparing for a change of government for some time. But politics affects all of us and for that reason those in non-political PR professionals should make sure they understand what a change of government could mean for them. The current expected outcome is a Labour win at next years’ general election. After 13 years of one party in power that change will come with lots of hope and optimism.

“It is rarely a good idea for a company to pledge public support for any one party as they will just lose half of their customer base. However creating campaigns that reflect the hope and optimism of many would make them more attractive without doing so.

“Also look at some of the policies Labour have said they will tackle immediately to see if they affect your clients or company such as education, housing, the NHS, justice, clean energy and early years care. Imbedding these flag baring issues as part of any campaign will show that you are thinking strategically.”

 

Sector focus

How property PRs will be affected

Debbie Standen, director, communications at communications and advocacy agency SEC Newgate UK: “A political shift like this impacts the entire property landscape, especially consumer, given the prevalence of the topic in national debate - inside Westminster and out.

“It’s important all campaign strategies are looking two bends down the road, building in a well-informed expectation of what is likely to come to remain as relevant and effective this time next year as they are today. We’ve been working in conjunction with our national and local advocacy teams to equip clients with these insights now, helping plan business activities and campaigns that can stand the test of potentially changing times - both in terms of navigating the challenges but also seizing the opportunities they present.

“That said, the change in wider public conversations and sentiment around the sector won’t necessarily be as severe as that seen in the Commons. The narrative has been shifting for some time with many of the areas Labour is looking to champion already prevalent in media and public agendas, which has been shaping property brands’ communications. Increasing global attention to ESG, along with the attitudes of new generations and rise of ‘conscious capitalism’ have been spurring a widespread shift more generally from conspicuous to conscientious. The rebrand of HTSI last year being a clear case in point. A change will drive a continuation of this, and possibly catalyse it over the course of the coming year.”

Rachel Colgan, managing director of agency Building Relations PR: “Unlike most aspects of politics, with a change in government we get plenty of time to prepare. As we all know, the housing minister role is a revolving door and policies can change at the drop of a hat, whereas a general election allows enough time for us to read manifestos, watch the news, and poll clients for opinion. Any PR professional taken by surprise by a change in government must have been sleepwalking for the 18 months before!

“Ultimately a change in government will affect everyone in PR no matter their sector. Why? Because our clients will need to adapt who they communicate with and what they need to say. Any PR professional worth their salt should already know what their client thinks and have a good idea of how they will react, and will have already prepared for this to happen. If you’re working in PR and haven’t started thinking about this - the time is now.”

There may be a great deal of discontent with the present government, but it is not a done deal that Labour will win the next election. Even if you are not a betting person, it may be worth putting a tenner on Conservatives winning again, and in the unlikely event that they do, you will have a good amount of money to invest (maybe in a ticket out of here!).

Image credit: iStock/BrianAJackson

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