Involving clients in conversations around the Budget can be a daunting task at first, due to the enormous variety of people involved and the political ramifications. However, as is often the case in the intertwined industries of journalism and PR, the focus should be on determining which conversations to be apart of, who should be involved and how best to tell your story.
At no other time is having a deep understanding of the media more important. Many newspapers have clear opinions on the Budget which are influenced by political allegiances. These are widely established and recognised, as seen in daily headlines leading up to the day: Enough quick fixes, Mr Osborne. Overhaul the tax system now (The Guardian), Mr Cable is in the wrong job (The Telegraph) for example. Others simply lay out their specific points of view: “The government spends too much and taxes too much. It has to curb both these tendencies…” (The Times, 7th March). If there is a story to tell around the Budget, you can be sure it will be received differently depending on the publication. Understanding this only helps to narrow focus and aid PRs in planning out a strategy.
Along with the media’s various political leanings, the enormity and variety of stakeholders adds a layer of complexity. My colleague, Mr John Craske and I, took to the streets last Friday lunch time to carry out a quick vox pop in Soho Square. Although completely unscientific, one interviewee summed up a common attitude when he said, “(from the Budget I want to see) anything that puts more money in my pocket” – a popular sentiment from ‘the man on the street’ which is easy to forget. It is important to accept that stories which play to this (rightly or wrongly) are popular and will often sell more newspapers than in-depth analysis of the broader economic issues.
War on the poor kids: Tory cuts and tax rises hit families hardest (Daily Mirror) is an emotive and hard hitting headline, but in reality is very misleading. The target readership of the Daily Mirror is deemed uninterested in hearing about the importance of maintaining the UK’s triple-A credit rating (the reason for cuts). Spending time and money trying to persuade the Mirror to contextualise such news, I would argue, is the wrong avenue for effective communications. The headline could easily have been, “Overspending Labour government impacts families hardest”, but it would never find a place in the left-leaning Daily Mirror. This serves purely as an example that some battles are worth fighting, whilst some are not.
Changing the nature of journalism and human interest is not the role of public relations but understanding it is. PR is about ‘Truth Well Told’ (slogan of McCann Erickson) and understanding the channels of communication should present a clear path through what at first may seem like and overwhelming jumble of opinion and news. Trying to get the Daily Mirror to explain why maintaining a triple-A credit rating is important may not be effective, but discussing the finer points with someone such as Phillip Inman, economics correspondent at The Guardian, most certainly would be. The same logic must be applied to client stories.
This post barely scratches the surface of PR and the Budget, but hopefully acts as reassurance that finding a client’s voice around the Budget is not as complicated as it may at first seem. The game is already decided; it’s about learning to play it. Tell the truth, tell it well, tell it to the people that matter and through the appropriate channels and don’t lose grip on reality.