PR and politics – spin or a whole new comms world? by Claire Barker

Claire's portraitRemember Alistair Campbell? He was certainly the most talked about press secretary any prime minister had employed when he served as the ‘second most powerful person in Britain’ during Tony Blair’s reign at Number 10.

Towards the end of Blair’s time in office, New Labour realised that ‘spin’ was doing the party more harm than good and so Campbell left with a new, calmer press regime installed instead. 
 
But what was Campbell’s ‘spin doctoring’ all about? Sure, some of it verged on an obsession with controlling the news agenda and dictating to the media. Not a move particularly welcomed or embraced by journalists. 
 
But at its heart, Campbell’s strategy was seemingly based on ensuring consistent communication across the Labour party; singing from the same hymn sheet, getting everyone facing in the same direction – all those phrases us PR people like to wheel out every now and then! 
 
But doesn’t this all sound a touch familiar? Haven’t we just seen Barrack Obama secure the American Presidency on the back of staying true to his brand and sticking to core messages? 
 
His narrative was crystal clear from day one of his campaign. It was always about ‘change’. He found something that rang true with American people and then he stuck with it, even when it was tempting to go ‘off message’. It meant people identified with him and what he believed in – a sure fire way to win votes, as we all saw. 
 
So wasn’t it interesting, and just a little ironic, that Labour MPs and strategists joined the Obama campaign towards its climax to pick up comms tactics and campaigning tips for their own Party efforts?
Could we see British politics now taking a leaf from the American book? There’s no doubt that Obama’s campaign was an incredible feat of professional communication and organisation combined with inspirational leadership. 
 
As a PR professional my hope is that the expectation he has created can be maintained. It’s going to take a critical comms campaign as well as his natural charm. It doesn’t have to be one at the expense of the other. But it can be done. 
 
Anyone see any candidates on the UK politics scene who could do something similar? If only
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