Scottish PR Agency Assess David Cameron's PR skills
Tuesday, July 12th, 2016
Is Cameron’s media management a marvel? Our Account Manager, Chris Fairbairn dissects the PR campaign of his premiership
ANDY Murray’s victory speech at Wimbledon was surprisingly memorable.
When raucous cheers were transformed into muffled boos upon the mere mention of the prime minister, even the bluest members of the centre court crowd would struggle not to succumb to schadenfreude.
He may not rank among fellow Davids -Attenborough or Beckham – as a public darling. Yet love him or loathe him, Cameron and his team have managed his public image exceptionally well, from day one to the fading days of his premiership. Bear in mind, the list of potentially career-ending-banana-skins he navigated is a long one.
Organisations in the public eye can certainly learn from this careful management and from the remarkably few PR and crisis management mistakes made through a tumultuous decade in the spotlight.
Here we look at some of the PR highs and lows of ‘call me Dave’s’ time in charge of the Conservatives and the country – and the lessons and learnings businesses like yours can take from them:
1 – Greenwash – shedding the ‘nasty’ tag
It may feel like a lifetime ago, but perhaps one of the smartest publicity stunts in modern politics led directly to former Granada studios PR-man, David Cameron, getting the top job.
The famous image of the old Etonian on the husky sled – on a visit to the arctic – was part of a concerted effort to turn the Tories from blue to green, and proved highly effective in creating a friendlier image for the so-called ‘nasty’ party.
Those images went everywhere and were intended to show Cameron’s compassionate side. The rebrand effectively took the Tories from the wilderness into power, simultaneously tainting the outgoing Labour party with economic ineptitude.
Having seemingly dispensed of the eco-warrior chic the very second he took power, it is difficult to believe Cameron went full Kermit the frog.
An undoubtedly cynical move then – and from a good a start a savvy PR would have encouraged him to remain publicly supportive of green policy, especially as climate change denial becomes increasingly marginalised.
The lesson: Embrace environmentally friendly campaigns and shout them from the rooftop – the planet deserves to know
The learning: Carry on with the same intent or risk appearing insincere and cynical
2 – Surviving #piggate – Knowing when to stay silent
If you’ve been on Mars for the last year, you’ll have to go elsewhere for the precise, porcine details of an unsavoury story from an unauthorised biography, that could have derailed the careers of lesser politicians.
So, how was it that a potential scandal of this scale, wasn’t so much worse for the PM?
During times of austerity, with stories emerging that brought to light Cameron’s past life of Bullingdon club hi-jinks, it posed a real problem for DC and raised questions of his suitability for the role.
However, Cameron quickly realised the incendiary claims were little more than that – anecdotal allegations with no solid evidence behind them.
So, for days he avoided dignifying the squalid allegations with any formal response, instead allowing friends, acquaintances and others who were there at the time, to rubbish the outlandish claims levelled against him.
Unsure what to believe the public seemed happy to write off the allegations as an over-exaggerated moment of youthful stupidity, whipped up as a tacky publicity stunt to promote a book.
Although Cameron’s denials were hardly concrete (and who am I to judge what he did get up to) he ensured he didn’t pour fuel on the flames and knowing that hard evidence would not likely surface was able to, (excuse the pun), trot on in the day job.
The lesson: Be streetwise, don’t escalate a negative story
The learning: Erm, avoid young Oxbridge toffs in questionable attire?
3 – The Panama Papers – and the power of saying ‘Sorry’
Oh dear. With #piggate barely settled, along came the Panama papers to further depict Cameron as a shiny cossetted posho with next to nothing in common with an increasingly weary electorate.
Although it would seem nothing ‘illegal’ had happened, it was evident that tax arrangements of his late father’s trust were not something the PM should be proud of – as he had directly benefited from them. Awkward.
In a rare mis-step, it took Cameron close to a week to apologise. There is no doubt this should have been done sooner, however when it happened Cameron sought to defend his father in a way that made him seem hurt, human and regretful.
A win in the closing stages right there.
The lesson: In times of self-inflicted crisis, make a full and genuine apology and be relatable to quell the situation
The learning: Do it as soon as possible. Every delay, no matter how small, will cost you in ways you never imagined (see our guide to the perfect PR apology, courtesy of Maria Sharapova)
4 – Brexit and the Power of Context
Since Brexit and the swift announcement of his resignation, it has been a very smooth few weeks for David Cameron.
Some light booing at SW1 will be water off a duck’s back, considering the magnitude of his misjudgement that lead to the UK’s eventual decision to leave the EU.
And yet by swiftly resigning and leaving no space for rumour, DC was able to cannily sink into the background as the storm of Brexit has engulfed and all but torn apart both the Tory and the Labour party.
When the nation and its media should have been intensively assessing Cameron’s almightiest mishap, it was instead bombarded by the prevailing news agenda.
Cameron’s understanding of that news agenda and wider context has saved the impending forensic examination of his actions.
The lesson: Engage with PR only with an awareness of the wider context
The learning: Don’t underestimate the power of the people!
It is likely that the miscalculation of the century that is Brexit, may well be his lasting legacy – but from the challenger days as opposition leader to the present day it is difficult to dispute the fact that although it has not always been done perfectly, public relations has been DC’s strongest attribute.
After all is said and done, how else do you explain a prime minister that has presided over austerity, Libya, #piggate, Panama papers, Brexit, the Bedroom Tax, nearly witnessed the independence of Scotland and the sell off of the Royal Mail, get away with just a mild boo from a well-heeled crowd?
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