Four thoughts on the government’s housing story

Anyone who’s worked in PR within government knows the drill when it comes to big announcements like the Prime Minister’s housing speech today.

The announcement to proposed changes to the dry-but-much-maligned area of planning policy followed some familiar and well-executed steps.

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Why housing must get its story straight

“Every penny you spend on housing subsidy is money you can’t spend on building houses.”

David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions, 10 February

Sound bites can be a useful way to convey a simple, memorable point.

Used well, they can conjure powerful, evocative messages that people remember. Politicians love them and use them to distill grand and complex plans into a key point.

Problem is they often miss the fundamental, complex realities that are an essential part of the story. When that happens, people are more likely to misunderstand the issue at hand.

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The anti-social media election: digital can do much more for parties

“Fighting a word of mouth campaign and having conversations is absolutely what political parties should be doing. But they have to be genuine conversations which means ditching the antiquated simplistic messaging formulas. Slavishly repeating exactly the same phrase over and over again just turns people off and makes them tune out. You can continually repeat the idea behind the message, but only if you constantly adapt it to the circumstances and use your own words.”

Stuart Bruce blogging about election campaigns in January 2015

Labour's campaign poster on the NHS
Depressingly familiar: campaign scare tactics made noise but didn’t cut through

It’s taken me until now to write about the election.

After months of conversations about preparing for another hung parliament, or even a minority government and second election later this year, I was massively surprised by the result. I’m still in shock about the outcome and can’t begin to explain it; the Westminster crew will doubtless spend the next six months pouring over every detail in its search for answers.

One aspect of the election I can offer a view on relates to my experience of the campaign over the past few weeks. There wasn’t any direct contact with my family, even though we live in one of the most marginal seats in the South West – where former MP Tessa Munt won the seat of Wells in 2010 by around 800 votes. This was a race with just two horses, with a 1% swing to the Conservatives enough to unseat the incumbent Liberal Democrat MP.

Save for a few drab leaflets through our door, nobody came to our street to talk to us or our neighbours. It may not have made a difference to the result, such was the scale of Tessa’s defeat. But the quality of direct campaigning was a depressing feature of the election for me.

I’ve read lots recently about the extent to which this was the ‘social media election’, with digital campaigning techniques spawning a ‘new era’ of engagement and parties reaching out to people. It was claimed that whoever won the social media campaign would win the keys to Number 10, which has been put into context by Stephen Waddington this week. I’d go further than those who’ve said the social media campaigning has been depressing and one-dimensional. While there was much to enjoy and fascinate, the main party campaigns were largely anti-social and a turn off.

A bit harsh? Read Stuart’s blog piece from January about why campaigning has to change and ask whether it really did.

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