More than two-thirds of people voted against AV last week – and many PR bosses hold the Yes To Fairer Votes campaign squarely responsible for the crushing defeat.
The PRCA surveyed 483 agency MDs and heads of comms on its leader panel. Just ten per cent of respondents said the Yes campaign had communicated its key messages most skilfully. This compared with 54 per cent of respondents who felt the No campaign had communicated its messages more skilfully.
Agency bosses contacted by PRWeek were also scathing of the Yes campaign’s tactics, with many accusing it of failing to stick to a simple, coherent message.
Chris Whitehouse, MD of The Whitehouse Consultancy, said: ‘The Yes campaign was a disaster from start to finish, and the whole venture fundamentally ill-considered. Voting reform is off the agenda for at least a decade.’
Gavin Devine, COO at MHP Communications, said the Yes campaign’s reliance on celebrities such as Eddie Izzard had backfired: ‘While celebrity endorsement is a good way to gain engagement with voters, a strong campaign must have a range of celebrities who appeal across demographics...
'The celebrity figureheads rolled out by the Yes campaign were decidedly more Old Vic than Queen Vic – and it was this "holier than thou" approach, suitable for the editorial pages of the Guardian, but certainly not for the Sun, which really let the campaign down.'
Devine added: 'The tone of the Yes campaign was wrong from the start – the approach was self-righteous and sanctimonious, and any criticism or counter-argument was met with a "you’re wrong, we’re right" message.
A number of public affairs professionals also said that the Yes campaign should have worked harder to make the AV battle more about Conservative leader David Cameron and less about Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.
Influential backers of the Yes campaign have also criticised it. Sunder Katwala, general secretary of the Fabian Society, said: ‘We can all see – yes, with hindsight – that the Yes campaign made some important strategic mistakes.’
There were also significant differences in how the Yes and No campaigns used the internet as a campaign tool. Both sides used the web to mobilise and organise supporters, but the No campaign put a greater focus on targeting top websites with paid adverts and sponsored links.