The Liberal Democrats have raised their profile, but which party is really winning the PR battle?

This week’s research on the online media coverage of the three major political parties shows a considerable swing to the Liberal Democrats. Last week, just 18 per cent of the online electoral news focused on the Lib Dems, whereas this week this has jumped to 32 per cent. Labour is now the party with the least amount of coverage at 28 per cent, while the Conservatives have the most coverage at 40 per cent (although this is down 5 per cent from last week).

Political Party Share of Voice

Research supplied by Echo Sonar

One major reason for the Liberal Democrats increased newsworthiness is because of Nick Clegg’s much-praised performance on TV. Chris Measures, director at PR agency Speed, says that the Leaders’ debate has really helped the Lib Dems, but is less sure of the long-term impact: “The current Cleggmania shows that the Lib Dems are winning the party PR battle – at the moment. Like all great PR campaigns it doesn’t come across as one – more a grassroots movement driven by people’s concerns and topped off by Nick Clegg’s strong TV performance. But the election is a long way from over and the Lib Dems need to move on to cope with the inevitable attacks from Labour and the Tories”.

Research supplied by Echo Sonar

Jo-ann Robertson, head of corporate communications and public affairs at Weber Shandwick, points out that the benefits of the TV debates to Nick Clegg were predicted by many before the election was even called, but she adds, “however no one can believe the extent of Cleggmania in the media.”

Robertson says that it may not have been that hard for Clegg to make such an impact. She explains: “The general distrust of politicians, the spin machine of Cameron, and the fact that Gordon Brown has been in frontline politics for over 20 years, meant that the fresh-faced Clegg didn't exactly have to do much to stir up a storm. Was it really appropriate to give the leader of a party, which has no chance of winning the election, the same amount of air time as the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition? I don't think so.

“After four years of preparation, Cameron's team appear to be confused and struggling to regain momentum – their message of change is playing better for the Lib Dems. Labour can't believe that they are actually still in the running, and are keeping to their strongest message that they are the party to keep us on the road to economic recovery.”

Ben Abbotts, head of public affairs at Lansons Public Affairs and Regulatory Consulting, believes another reason for the Lib Dem’s positive coverage is because their PR efforts are so low-key. Abbotts says: “This campaign is less about PR battles and spin and ads than many expected. This is the anti-politics, anti-politician election with a public in control.

“The Lib Dem campaign, while more polished than 2005, and advised by a host of former and current PR practitioners, isn't about being slick. The campaign is run on a vastly lower budget than other parties. They are winning support by positioning themselves as outsiders – a challenger brand.

“Right now, I'm not sure we have seen any new campaign tactics so no PR battle has been won on creativity yet. The jury appears out on whether 'digital' will be the dog that didn’t bark in this campaign, and I see little evidence of Obama-like internet campaigning.

“In terms of day-to-day PR battles, the Tories won the on the day the election was called and I liked their fresh, Battersea manifesto launch. I can think of no significant PR win for Labour.

Winning a PR battle isn't just about launches and spin. It is about the capacity to successfully alter strategy in light of changing dynamics. Since we suddenly find ourselves in unprecedented political parties territory, it is the capacity of each of the parties to respond to, and shape their response, which is the real PR battle to win.”

PRmoment asked Echo Sonar to analyse all UK online media coverage of the three major UK political parties in the build up to the 2010 general election. The research period was 14 April to 20 April 2010. Metrics included share of voice and volume of coverage of political issues.