Archive for April, 2012

Cameron needs to communicate a vision to leave a legacy

posted by Edward Jones

The Government, well, Number 10 actually, is in a quandary. On the one hand, there is a need for quick wins to move on from what has memorably been described, in the words of Malcolm Tucker, as an omni-shambles. On the other, the Prime Minister is presiding over a period of austerity. The two, unfortunately, are not compatible.

At first austerity measures were seen as essential to return to economic growth, but the implications of this are now starting to bite. The quick wins on their own are not sufficient to change perceptions. If Number 10 is to change perceptions, a coherent narrative, with stories that constantly reinforce what David Cameron is trying to do is required.

As Oliver Wright and Andrew Grice write in The Independent, Number 10 has been looking for good news stories across Government for Cameron to be personally associated with. The hope is that any good news story will move the agenda on from the current post-budget malaise. The problem with this approach is these stories, good though they might seem, fail to form part of a coherent narrative. They do nothing to alter the perception of the Government as overseeing economic hardship. 

The prospects for the average voter look bleak. Less money. More tax. Later retirement. That’s before you put it in the context of a class war. Philip Collins notes in his excellent article in The Times that Number 10 needs to communicate that all this pain is not for nothing. Collins should know the merits of communicating a long term ambition, having been present as Tony Blair struggled to come to terms with what his legacy ought to be. Cameron is now at this same juncture. Collins has written the basis of what Cameron’s narrative might look like:

“The first [pledge] is that we will restore this country to economic health. We will clear the horrible mess in the public finances that was left once the other side had finished its irresponsible partying. We will get Britain moving.

“The second commitment I can make is that the burden of austerity will be shared out fairly. By the end of this Parliament, it will be clear that those with the broadest shoulders will have taken most of the weight. We all have to make a contribution in accordance with our means. That is only fair.

“That leads to my third pledge. When prosperity returns to Britain, which it will, the hard-working families, those who are digging us out of a hole they were thrown into, will see the benefit.”

It is fair to say that the first point is well understood and well communicated. Credit where credit is due, the messages on this point were relentless and the Conservatives and George Osborne in particular should take credit for successfully undermining Gordon Brown’s economic record and mentally preparing voters for economic hardship.

Number 10 and the Treasury have acknowledged that the second point above is important, but they have been unconvincing in their attempts to convince the electorate that the burden is being shared equally.

The third element, which promises light at the end of the tunnel or, put another way, hope, has been non-existent.

Number 10’s communications can’t simply be seen through the prism of points one and two. Moreover, the economic legacy that this Prime Minister will leave behind will belong to George Osborne. The promise of a better future however is absolutely critical and has thus far been forgotten. If Cameron is to leave a legacy of his own, then he has to convince voters that under his stewardship a better future lies ahead.

The Life imitating art imitating life conundrum

THIS POST IS FROM MARIE CAIRNEY

Today Programme’s Jim Naughtie stood corrected this week when he credited Ed Miliband with coining the term ‘omni-shambles’ after he used it in PMQs to describe the Tories monthus horribilis. It was of course comedy writer, Armando Iannucci, who came up with the great summation in his painfully funny political satire, The Thick of It. So there is nothing new under the soundbite sun after all it seems but I’m wondering what does this say about art and politics when a piece of satire is hijacked by the brunt (or equivalent ) of the satirist’s joke. Does it make the joke even funnier or the reality even more tragic? Probably a bit of both I suspect. Does Ed have his finger on the pulse of popular culture or is his level of self-awareness so low that he can’t see what Iannucci’s mirror is reflecting. Or perhaps he just has a great self-deprecating sense of humour. Or perhaps, more likely, the sound-bite machine and LHQ racked their brains, had a brainfart and spat it out – oh how they must have giggled at the irony! Almost reminds me of a scene from a TV programme, what’s-it-called… ah yes, The Thick of It.

ps. LOVING Twenty Twelve on BBC2 on Fridays; The Thick of it for those with a more delicate disposition and who are adverse to proper swearing. Brilliant.     

Image from Metro.co.uk

Newsround – top tips for pitching success

Earlier this month, BBC’s Newsround celebrated 40 years of broadcasting news to children – to put that into perspective, the programme is longer lived than Eastenders, Top Gear and is closing fast on Top of the Pops’ original run. Newsround isn’t an ideal target for all (or even most) PR campaigns, but it does have a fantastic reach and for some pieces of work it’s a cracking target.

To that end, we’ve pooled the collective wisdom of the Financial and Professional Services team to bring you our top five tips on how to get your story on the five o’clock show. Several of us have successfully pitched Newsround over recent years, most recently for Aviva’s Street Dance for Change programme. So here we go:

1. Remember the target audience: Newsround is aimed at 6-12 year olds, which means your story has to be simple enough for a 6 year old to understand, but also complex enough to appeal to a fast-maturing 12 year old.

2. Use the child’s point of view: Again, given their audience, your story needs to take place from a child’s point of view – it’s not good enough simply for it to relate to kids. Street to School was an example of this – informing children about the dangers/issues they face.

3. Yes to celebs, but the right ones: Brad Pitt, Russell Howard and Joanna Lumley are great, but likely mean very little to a 6 year old. Using a celebrity to help communicate a tricky issue can be helpful but it has to be the right celebrity – it’s easy to forget that children don’t watch mainstream TV and films. Choose wisely.

4. Watch CBeebies: Knowing your Tracy Beaker from your Sadie J can be a great help. Selling a story when there’s a similar storyline running on another CBBC show really helps as we’ve found out – just like adults, kids relate to other things they see and read in the media.

5. Remember it’s a TV programme: Like all broadcast media, it really is about giving Newsround the whole package of different elements to support the story – a spokesperson to sit on the couch, a famous face to do something clever, a kickass video for them to show online; ultimately the more you put in, the more you’re likely to get out.

The acceptable face of economic debate?

posted by Edward Jones

THIS POST IS BY JOSHUA GLENDINNING

Angela Knight, head of the British Banker’s Association, is to step down after five years at the helm of the industry body. Knight has led something of a charmed life in what would be seen by many as an invidious position in an adverse political climate for the financial services sector. While the former Tory MP doesn’t garner respect from all political quarters, she is certainly admired by many within the financial services sector for her ability to speak on behalf of the industry. According to The Guardian, she has given over 800 broadcast interviews, and travelled over 14,000km to and from Brussels alone since 2006. For those working in the City, it has been preferable to have such a shrewd political operator speaking on their behalf rather than having to face the ire of public opinion themselves

Knight’s time at the BBA has been indicative of a broader trend within politics and the media. Despite frequent media brickbats, those within the financial services sector are often far better able to carve themselves positions of political and intellectual authority than many other would-be commentators. Ultimately, the BBA is little more than a lobbying organisation for its members and yet Knight has been able to assume an air of authority within the media which would not be accorded to many others in similar positions.

For example, Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey may have been making political waves this week but he is unlikely to be asked on most news programmes to talk on subjects that don’t explicitly affect his members. (Incidentally, for an interesting insight on the man who appears to have the ability to turn the government and subsequently the public into Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army, listen to Profile on Radio 4). Knight, on the other hand, has been frequently asked to discuss broader social and economic issues, as well as more obvious areas such as the reform of the banking sector.

The financial crisis (or perhaps Robert Peston) has increased public interest in the financial services sector to a level previously unseen. However, outside of personal finance, many commentators in possession of a sufficient degree of technical knowledge are also industry insiders. The adversarial exceptions to this rule (for example, here and here) lack experience at conveying their views to the new audience which has invaded their previously arcane and quiet cloister of political debate. Unlike construction, manufacturing or even many service industries, the products of financial services are almost entirely intangible and the sector is therefore assumed to be too complex or too boring for most people to understand. The upshot is that media discussion is divided between either popular yet infantile anger or sophisticated yet sterile analysis.

‘The acceptable face of British banking’ may not be missed by all, but the reputation she has built for herself is certainly instructive for any company or organisation wishing to make an impression on the media.