PR industry's failure to predict Trump is part of a bigger picture

Comms practitioners do not get out enough and mix outside of a certain familiar demographic - and in not doing so they fail to deliver the quality of advice that they could.

Unpredictable: Trump (©Gage Skidmore via Flickr)
Unpredictable: Trump (┬ęGage Skidmore via Flickr)

By virtue of a diary oversight, the PRCA Awards and the US general election took place on the same night. Personally, I blame the Americans – very inconsiderate of them. It did, however, give an added dimension to conversations there, and at the subsequent PRCA election night party hosted in Millbank by Connect Communications, about winners and losers.

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That evening, you could count on one hand the number of people who agreed with me that Trump was going to win. And that number was even smaller than the ranks of those who had predicted Brexit a season beforehand. Well, you know what happened.

In response, we have set up a review, headed by Andy Sawford, managing partner at Connect, that will look at what went wrong on the prediction front. This will include public affairs practitioners, pollsters and others. It will report next year. I think we can all learn something and I hope that it will prove of value to everyone. If you would like to be involved, please shout.

Relevant to the public affairs professionals within our industry, but not to me, you say?

Well, no. Because there is a broader question facing the PR and communications industry about whom we employ, and with whom we speak.

Allow me to make that case.

The PRCA has long been vocal in saying that we need to pay interns; create a PR apprenticeship programme; reach out to every part of our nation, for reasons both of fairness and equality and in our own self-interest. When advising clients and colleagues, we are at our best when we are most in touch. And if we draw from a relatively small employment pool and speak only with those who share our opinions, then we limit our knowledge; our understanding; our influence.

Our industry’s failure to predict the massive sea change that happened in the UK on 23 June, and the about-turn of political direction that happened in the US five months later, is part of a bigger picture. Too many PR practitioners simply do not get out enough (ironic in an industry that networks so much). We fail to reach out beyond a certain demographic of acquaintances; or beyond our own metropolitan areas.

And that comes with a price tag. It means we do not see over the horizon as much as we could. It means we are surprised. It means we do not deliver the quality of advice that – if we were broader in view – we could.

To any UK PR and comms professionals, here are a few tips:

  • Spend more time outside London.
  • Better still, spend it in some rural as well as metropolitan areas.
  • Find people with different attitudes and backgrounds, and try organising some job swaps.
  • Read a wider range of media.
  • Follow people on Twitter you think are self-evidently wrong.

Above all, do not be so quick to utter the words I heard so often during 2016: "Don’t be stupid. That’s never going to happen." Unless, of course, you prefer to find yourself saying: "Ah, I called that wrong. Again."

Francis Ingham is PRCA director-general and ICCO executive director


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