PLATFORM: Mandelson has become PR’s new role model - In Peter Mandelson, PR has a hero who has changed the nature of political campaigning forever, says Joanna Biddolph

Sir Bernard Ingham is wrong (PR Week, 9 May). PR people can make a silk purse of a sow’s ear - and they do so, in surprisingly simplistic ways, as we saw during the Election.

Sir Bernard Ingham is wrong (PR Week, 9 May). PR people can make a

silk purse of a sow’s ear - and they do so, in surprisingly simplistic

ways, as we saw during the Election.

Many PR Week readers will have looked at the election campaign not only

from their own perspectives or through their client’s eyes but also as

an exercise in communications. The Tories were lambasted for their long

campaign but, although a week is a long time in politics, six weeks is a

short time for a campaign. Meanwhile, Labour had been conducting a

simple but highly effective campaign which ran for over two years,

achieving in subtlety over time what the Tories could never hope to

achieve in a mere six weeks, even if they had managed to pull themselves


I suspect Labour’s new strategy began to develop, at least as a kernel

of an idea, as the Kinnock defeat was announced. The campaign based on

that strategy started in earnest when Labour first announced it was to

consult its members on a draft manifesto. But this consultation exercise

was not aimed just at its members. It was aimed at the electorate and,

although the press fell for the line that this was only an internal

communications exercise, the electorate began to take note. Claiming to

want only the views of its members, the real message - ’we consult and

we listen’ - was for the electorate.

In the best PR tradition, that message was repeated over and over again

in what was ultimately a very simplistic campaign. Consultation

documents appeared and were considered by all and the message was

reinforced using a network of supporters who were willing to sing from

the same song sheet in every constituency. When Labour altered its

message to one of trust and a promise of a better deal it was easy to

believe it.

And it has already shown that, in some respects at least, it means to

carry on as it started. Did you, like me, think that every Labour

acceptance speech, although obviously not scripted, had been heavily

influenced by the equivalent of an edict from head office and that all

had attended the best media training courses? Even in the euphoria of

electoral delight, new inexperienced and very young MPs joined their

older, more established colleagues to plug the same message ’you are

safe with New Labour’. Mandelson’s pen was behind each one, at least in

spirit if not by providing the exact words.

In our relatively new profession, discussions still take place about the

need for PR representation at board level. With a seat in the Cabinet

and, just as importantly, a roving brief to be involved in promoting

every decision in every department, Mandelson must be our new role


Love him or loathe him, Labour’s PR supremo has made a silk purse

(Blair’s New Labour) out of a sow’s ear (Kinnock’s modern socialism) and

he did so by using tried and tested, simple but highly effective


The challenge now is to prove that it is not all PR gloss and, on that,

he has to rely on the government to deliver its promises, just as we

have to rely on employers or clients to give us our promised raw


With a seat on the board, this will be easier for him to achieve but, in

my view, even if he fails, he has changed the nature of political

campaigning so much that it will not matter.

The Tories must now be trying to put Mandelson’s practices into their

actions. But they should be warned: Mandelson will undoubtedly move on,

leaving them still trying to catch up. Theirs is a tougher, more

seasoned sow.

Joanna Biddolph is public affairs manager at the UK Steel Association.

The views expressed here are her personal ones.

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