Wednesday, 19 May 2010

In Defence of Self-Regulation

Paul Bradshaw asks on twitter why we disagree with the Government's proposal to become heavily involved in the regulation of public affairs professionals. In particular, he asks how we can 'reasonably' do so. Well, the question having been posed, let me attempt an answer.

The PRCA -along with the two other relevant professional bodies- agrees that transparency and accountability are central to the practice of public affairs. That is why PRCA members have, for many years, adhered to a rigorous Code of Conduct, and declared regularly the names of their clients and the names of their employees. The same goes for APPC members too. There is nothing secretive here, and the people who pretend otherwise are very often just engaged in wishful thinking to support their own theories.

This accountability and transparency is further being enhanced by the creation of one unified register under the Public Affairs Council, constituted by the three main bodies. This Council will be chaired by an independent person of stature, who will be supported by other Independent Board Members. The identities of those people will very soon be made public, the exhaustive recruitment process having been completed two days ago.

Having set that context, let me address the main issue. Government regulation should be proportionate, effective, and better than the thing it replaces. Where self-regulation exists and works, it should be allowed to continue. That holds true for any normal activity, not just public affairs. It applies to blogging, tweeting, even journalism for that matter. And existing public affairs regulation does indeed work.

We are not nihilists -we will continue to work calmly and reasonably with all parties to make our points. And if the Government does decide to amend the current regulatory system, and legislatively to prioritise such a change, then we will work with them to make it as effective and proportionate as possible. But the key point is this -it is those who scream 'something must be done', and urge the dismantling of a system that works already, who are not acting 'reasonably'.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Election 2010 - Where is the real power?

Guest post by Howard Kosky, markettiers4dc

So, after a weekend of yet more conjecture having woken up on Friday to the news that no single party had won the election and that the exit poles appeared to have got it right, communication experts have begun to dissect the campaigns to look at where it went right or, more worryingly for some, where it went wrong and what lessons there are to be learned.

But what can we in the communications industry learn or, more to the point, be reminded of from this campaign?

As with many brands and organisations, the UK's political parties have tried to engage with an audience, build a community and deliver a call to action to ‘buy’ their brand i.e. to vote for them. One could argue that, collectively, they have done a very good job. Turnout was up and there were queues outside the ‘shops’ / polling stations of people keen to 'buy' one of them.

We’ve seen traditional marketing tactics deployed including above-the-line advertising. There has been print media editorial with some newspapers switching allegiances, point-of-sale with local sampling teams and broadcast, but what happened to Social Media?

It was only a few months ago that we were being told that this was the election where Social Media would take its place in influencing the political shape of the country in the same way perhaps Barack Obama’s campaign did in the US. However for me, with a vested and subjective interest, I will have to stand in the corner and raise my hand for the power of broadcast and how this media has, once again, shown its strength to influence.

For the first time we have had the Leader Debates, if we can describe them as such. I would argue they were more influential in mobilising an audience than the traditional TV ad of the party political broadcast. We can also analyse the debates themselves and the personal performances of the ‘brand spokespersons’ and draw conclusions and analogies to what we deal with day to day. There is no doubt they were effective in engaging an audience with a call to action to register and vote, but how much influence did each spokesperson have on us the electorate to 'buy' their brand? Nick Clegg most certainly used the opportunity to raise awareness for the Lib Dems and looks set to have a big say in the final outcome if the activity of the last few days is anything to go by.

As we all know, when you are dealing with a powerful media, its great when it goes in your favour but tread careful and be respectful to it, otherwise it can also work against you. One only has to observe Gordon Brown’s ‘gaffgate’ episode to see this in practice.

Rule one as anyone will tell you in broadcast is to assume the mic is live at all times until you are certain its been switched off. I watched with intrigue not only that moment unfold 'live' on television, but also as the TV cameras followed Brown into the radio studio to be interviewed by Jeremy Vine. This is a media which can mobilise itself very quickly and whilst being made aware of the recording and realising the severity of his comments, Brown importantly also realised the influence of broadcast media.

So whilst no one party can claim an outright victory, I hereby declare Broadcast the winner and a timely reminder of its power to influence.