Monday, June 02, 2008

A lost cause?

Imagine the scenario, you have just got home from a night shift or preparing to leave for a day shift, it is 6am. The telephone rings, I would wonder who has been taken seriously ill or died as no-one rings that early. But there is a strangely familiar Scottish accented voice on the other end 'Hello, Gordon Brown here. I'm calling about the email you sent'. OK enough of the bad literature. An insider is quoted in PR Week as attributing this to Stephen Carter, Downing Street Head of Strategy, intended to humanise the PM by getting him to call people personally. "Carter will choose a letter or email at random, have one of his team at Number 10 prepare a response, then get Brown to call"; the insider claims. More damningly they criticise the ploy: "Carter's idea is well meaning, but it's not working. Improving Brown's image through PR is now being looked at as a lost cause".

While we have no idea who the insider is or how close they are to decision making, this little vignette tells us a great deal about the thinking inside Number 10 currently. There is clearly a sense of desperation, after all one would expect a Prime Minister to have better things to do. Secondly, perhaps Brown is seen as a liability and so the team prepares a response, not him, they choose the letter or email as well, perhaps keeping off topics he is not good on, and then they get him to call the author. But the BBC puts a much better spin on the story interviewing one recipient of a call: Wajid Rafique. He wrote criticising conduct of the Iraq War and Brown contacted him "apologised on behalf of the Labour government for what had happened to the people of Iraq... and said he would give his full concentration on the withdrawal the British troops... I believed what he said and felt like he was on my side" Mr Rafique is quoted as adding.

Perhaps indication of a recognition that politicians need to contact voters more, but perhaps also a PR stunt aimed at gaining headlines. Is this one of the final acts of a desperate administration? Does the insider show the failings in communication that seem to dog the government? What does this tell us about the strategic thinking behind government PR?


Mark Hanson said...

I think it tells us more about the way teh sentiment is against Brown.

This is exactly the sort of things that politicians should do more of as its one of many things that they need to do in order to get out from stage managed, soundbite-led communications.

Remember, this wasn't done for publicity, it is something that was leaked via PR Week, much to the frustration of No 10.

Elliot said...

Yeah, sure it was leaked, and sure the PM was very angry. Give me a break. This is the lamest PR stunt ever and the media (or at least channel 4 that I was watching) was a participant, doing free work for the Dear Leader.

Frank Garner said...

This may not have been done for publicity, but surely it was obvious it would gain publicity as anyone getting a phone call from Brown would let someone know and then it would hit the media. What strikes me about the information gained was how little Brown engages with this. For god sake this is the PM and he needs to be given a briefing document before he can talk to a member of the public, god help us! What does he do in cabinet meetings, call his PRs for the right line before he makes any comment? No CEO works like this, PRs do comms not policy