David Singleton: Expenses row brings out good comms

Every now and then, a powerful story breaks into the news agenda and seems to muscle out everything else. Over the past year, PROs could be forgiven for feeling they have seen more than their fair share of this type of story. First came the recession and the associated bank bail-outs. More recently, there was swine flu. Now we have the seemingly never-ending story about MPs' expenses.

David Singleton
David Singleton

The expenses story has dominated headlines for what now feels like an eternity. Most news outlets have responded by pumping increased resources into it. Consequently, many media relations teams have been forced to raise their game.

As our coverage on page three shows, some PROs have judged it wise to hold back stories in this climate, while others have attempted to piggyback on the current agenda – with varying degrees of success. Many have kept pushing away in the belief that every media outlet thrives on variety, despite a target that offers less space and fewer journalists.

Any PR team that has managed to wrestle the media’s attention away from expenses in recent days deserves to be loudly applauded for its communications skills, as does David Cameron. The Tory leader’s reaction has widely been seen as authoritative and decisive. Perhaps most importantly, he appears to have succeeded in distancing himself from Tory MP Douglas Hogg’s moat-cleaning activities.

On the other hand, Gordon Brown provided something of a PR masterclass on how not to handle the story. His performance can now be reduced to two memorable gaffes. First came a bizarre YouTube video outlining his half-hearted plans to reform expenses. This was followed by a badly timed public apology – just as the Tories found themselves in the firing line for the first time.

The leaders of the three main political parties must show their anger if they are to gain any sympathy from voters. Once again, Cameron looks best prepared. For months, he has been projecting himself as the Mr Angry of British politics. Now, with the expenses row likely to drag on, chances are we’ve not seen the last
of Mr Angry.

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