Magazine article Marketing

Centre Stage: Will Digital Media Gain Cross-Party Support?

Magazine article Marketing

Centre Stage: Will Digital Media Gain Cross-Party Support?

Article excerpt

The general election, in May, could redefine the relationship between the political parties and the mainstream media, with the outcome far from predictable, writes Ben Bold

The UK's political parties are preparing for battle as 7 May's general election approaches: the propaganda machines are rumbling into action, soundbites are being crafted, posters unveiled, strategies planned and tactics devised.

It's likely to get nasty, and many observers are keenly anticipating it.

While the Liberal Democrats form one half of the current coalition government, commentators have been quick to dismiss their relevance. It is expected that the Conservatives will be entrenched on one side and Labour on the other, notwithstanding a few peripheral factions mounting guerrilla-style incursions.

Beyond this, if supremacy is in part defined by a party's war chest, the Conservatives have a distinct advantage.

Their party is expected to outspend Labour 3:1, opting for traditional media, while Labour leader Ed Miliband has said he wants to have 4m face-to-face conversations with voters, placing an emphasis on door-to-door canvassing.

'What that probably means is that Labour will spend more on digital and social, and the Tories will spend more on traditional poster advertising,' says Will Harris, chief executive of PR agency Mission Media and a former Conservative Party marketing director.

Since the 2010 election, digital has moved up the political agenda, with David Cameron clearly no longer feeling one need be a 'twat' to engage with social media, having taken to the world of Twitter and selfies with aplomb.

So 2015 could be the UK's first truly digital and social-media-led general election.

'User-generated content will play a big part,' predicts Labour candidate David Prescott, director at PR agency Commucan. Having worked alongside his father John Prescott, the former deputy prime minister, and Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former director of communications and strategy, on Labour's 2010 Go Fourth campaign website, Prescott is no stranger to digital campaigning. ''Photoshops' and Vines from politicians and the public will be lapped up by mainstream media and rolling news channels,' he says.

Richard Huntington, group chief strategy officer at Saatchi & Saatchi, which has worked with both the Conservatives and Labour in the past, disagrees. 'Social media is massively overrated,' he argues. 'It's great at preaching to the converted and distributing leaders' speeches or policy points, but political messaging rarely escapes its bubble, unless it's very amusing. …

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