OPINION: Mayoral PR battle begins to heat up

So the new political season is fast approaching, with party conferences around the corner and pre-election games already being played. And in London a really promising bare knuckle bust-up between Boris and Ken is in prospect.

Luke Blair: director, London Communications Agency
Luke Blair: director, London Communications Agency

All good fun. For the public sector, keeping an eye on the approach of purdah and other process issues, it’s only going to get busier.

The real problem will be keeping stakeholder audiences focused on the issues that count, and not just the trivialities of who said what to whom, who dropped which particular ball, and the most amusing of Ken and Boris’s latest jokes at each other’s expense.

I won’t recycle all the witticisms that those two have ‘reserved the right’ to make in their campaigns so far, as Boris puts it.

Although I must admit I did hear Ken say in a speech last night that he rather liked Boris but ‘would not want him looking after my children’.

Suffice to say that being engaging, while simultaneously appearing credible, authoritative, and having sensible policies that will really make an impact on people’s lives, is one of the most difficult tricks to perform.

And it is the job of comms staff, whether working for the Greater London Authority or the ‘Back Boris’ campaign, to help their leaders pull it off, to achieve the right balance between credibility and cutting political debate, between amusing witticisms and authoritative analysis.

Those who fail to get this tricky balance right will not engage people for long enough to convince them their candidates or policies are worth voting for.  Those who get it right – either through natural flair or more often by dint of sheer hard work – can be reasonably sure of carving out long, successful careers in politics, or communications.

For all those other audiences, the good news is that an amusing political debate gets everyone talking and, for a country like ours with a historic apathy to elections of any kind – regional, national or European – that can only be a welcome development.

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