Vox Pop: Corbyn's success vs. media spins

On Saturday the nation was witness to the landslide victory of 'Corbyn mania', which was up against media spins and a 'consistent stream of press criticism'. Corbyn's appointment marks a peak in modern British politics by being a true leader of the opposition, holding opposing policies close to his heart. Despite constant media smear campaigns, Corbyn stood strong with 59.5% of the vote. Does this suggest that people have less faith in media coverage on political campaigns? The Drum Network members discuss.

Matthew Wilkinson, business director, 7thingsmedia

The news of Jeremy Corbyn's overwhelming mandate success in the Labour Party Leader elections suggests that there is now an opportunity for the British political consciousness’s to wake from its collective slumber and confront the PR driven, UK media fuelled, centre-right argument that 'free-market big business is good for Britain'.

In an age when austerity measures are clearly impacting negatively on the country's most poorest and vulnerable in our society, whilst an increasingly distant financial 'elite' have in the words of former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan 'never had it so good', there is now a clear delineation of political ideals and values between the leading two UK political parties due in part to the insurmountable rise of 'Corbyn-ism' and a reassessment of the left within the Labour party ranks.

In PR terms, Jeremy Corbyn does not represent the typical media-friendly persona, with its modern day incarnation first moulded and cast in the 'white heat' rise of New Labour and encapsulated by the 'Teflon Tony' image of the then Labour leader. Yet in spite of The Daily Mail screaming provocatively that ‘Corbyn won't bomb ISIS' from its gargantuan free-to-view (the most viewed in the world) news website, even Corbyn himself 'the friend of Hamas, Iran and extremists' according to The Daily Telegraph, has very recently been given an image ‘make-over' and online stories abound of the critical news that Jeremy is dispensing with his trademark white vests to appear more 'Alfred the Great' rather than Alf Garnett' in his preparation for power. But do these types of news stories about the new Labour Leader, found easily with a cursory search through Google, already dilute the debate into one of 'fashion' and less about policy?

The Corbyn led debate of renationalisation is one that is going to be played out not just in the halls of Westminster but through every single digital channel and commentator, from the High Court judge to your man in the street. The thing is, these days the 'man in the street' owns a smartphone and he loves to use it for fair means or foul.

Let's hope that the new political landscape (if indeed that's what it is?) is one which can democratically be engaged with, discussed and dissected through the politically agnostic medium of digital for all members of our society, not just those ones with a huge paid media budget and a large army of 'content writers'. And if you believe that digital is really politically agnostic and that the UK media doesn't have any business agenda you're as in the dark as one of Jeremy's now thrown-to-the-back-of-the-cupboard vests. Now is a huge opportunity to shine a light at those who preach prosperity for all, yet continue to subscribe to a world of profit before people.

Lee Wilson, head of SEO, Vertical Leap

For me a key element of PR is getting that initial reach and engagement. The first success of Corbyn’s media coverage was to generate genuine engagement about politics (specifically politics tied to the individual regardless of sentiment); something that has been extremely challenging for political parties generally.The true wins throughout Corbyn’s campaign appeared to be based on aligning traditional PR with digital (notably social media) – again, this is not something to be taken lightly.

Social Media has been hugely beneficial for this campaign. A driving factor for this benefit being the continuous amount of social fuel provided in the form of new content/topical updates and actual emotional user generated feedback. Herd mentality and other emotive driven behaviour aspects can be core success elements within a PR driven marketing campaign.

Part if this gain has to be attributed to Corbyn having clear opinions – something often lacking in this type of scenario (but imperative for social success) as well as a willingness to respond to users spanning online and offline mediums. PR is unlikely have a consistent, repeatable effect on peoples decision making process in many cases, as the user behaviour will always change, as will technology, the levels of learnt behaviour (especially online) and the ability for people to become more robust to direct (conscious and subconscious) marketing, regardless of the form.

Having said that, surely PR having ‘an’ effect, whether in the more traditional form of direct attributable action, or a more modern manifestation of it, will be enough to continue the requirement for its contribution as part of the modern marketing mix.

Neil Stanhope, MD and founder, Underscore

Jeremy Corbyn was elected partly because he is offering a 'new way' of approaching politics, and partly because he was the anti-vote for the old way. Social media is also the new way. It has evolved and been embraced so quickly because people wanted a new way to receive, share and debate information. Jeremy Corbyn was also elected on a platform of 'fairness'.

So because social media is open to all - the voters of today (and especially Generation Y) will more readily trust the collective thoughts of the Internet over the singular mainstream view that is more dictated and less open to debate. So possibly when the MSM began to promote 'anyone but Corbyn' the voters smelt a rat and went the opposite way. Simples.

This thinking was seen to a lesser extent in the general election and may yet come to play a major role in the European referendum. Watch this space!

Claire Kanani, marketing manager, Ferrier Pearce Creative Group

Media spin has always been embedded in politics, even before the birth of ‘democracy’ and political systems that vaguely resemble our own. It’s not new, but it is becoming more easily recognised and dismissed for what it is. Like most things, too much of it and we easily become desensitised or even suspicious. Bernard Ingham was not known for his subtlety, much like the Thatcher years in general, but was respected and highly influential. Since then, as media has become more sophisticated, we have experienced the smoother approach applied by the likes of Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell. We’re well versed in the buzz words - and their true meanings… ‘difficult decisions’ = you’re screwed ‘we’re committed to…’ = it’s not going to happen ‘austerity’ = we’re skint and the bank is shut.

Perhaps now we are too jaded and can see through the cliches and avoidance tactics. Perhaps we’re after a new kind of PR, a more honest and open approach. Only politicians who might feel they have nothing to lose and have the freedom to be braver tend to go down this road and we love them all the more for it. It looks like the outsiders might be in the running.

Michael Moszynski, CEO, LONDON Advertising

Corbyn’s victory was nothing to do with the sort of ‘political campaign’ we see at a General Election where PR has to influence the mass population. It was a well-orchestrated Trotskyist coup by the Unions. To be fair to Corbyn, he has been very clear and transparent and consistent with what he has always believed in and as such could be seen as an antidote to the disenchantment of politics from the Blair-inspired era of spin. But his voters in this election were party activists, union activists and left-wing infiltrators combined with some of the idealistic young – not the general public.

To be fair to the media, what they were mainly doing was quoting what Corbyn had said on various subjects over the last 30 years – there was no need for spin. But the reality is that his brand of hard core socialism will not be bought by the British electorate irrespective of any amount of PR (or even anti-PR) by the Labour Party.

At the moment the Tories don't need to do any spin. As Michael Deacon wrote in the Telegraph after Corbyn's shadow cabinet fiasco "if he carries on like this Tory spin doctors will be fearing for their jobs as he is making them all redundant."

Having run a number of political campaigns including, the 2005 Conservative General Election, I have immense faith in the great British public who take a long-term view of politics that is distant from the froth of Westminster and the media. They know that what Corbyn is proposing has failed in every country it has ever been forced on. PR can resonate and reinforce views over time and it is important in helping people in a free society make informed choices but it can’t sell snow to Eskimos. Corbyn’s appeal will melt before he ever gets near a General Election.

As one of the few pundits to consistently predict in the national media a “small Conservative majority” in the General Election and the Scottish referendum by 0.3% (sorry Ladbrokes) here are my predictions if you fancy a flutter at the bookies:

Zac will become London Mayor, Labour will lose 200+ seats in the May local elections and lose 50% of their seats in Holyrood. Who will lead Labour in 2020? Who knows apart from the fact I have more chance than Corbyn, but whoever it is they will still lose that too.

Mike Rose, MD, Chapter

Whether you agree or disagree with what JC stands for or not, for the first time in a long time we do have something stark to agree or disagree with. Like it or not, it flies in the face of the well greased weather vein of modern politics where nobody is really sure who stands for what anymore. And post a general election where the perception that, 'they' are all media trained and focus grouped within half an inch of their carefully managed personas, was made even stronger.

In fact I'm pretty sure Ed lost the election by being a less good version of Dave rather by being himself and standing clearly and defiantly for what he did, or for that matter, didn't believe. He may well have still lost, but it would have been for a long held passionate belief from deep in his core and not for a funny voice, a questionable haircut or the ability to gracefully eat a bacon sarnie.

What it does bring into sharp focus is the fine line between PR amplifying something that exists already and PR generating the thing being promoted. JC's success is based on providing something different, something polarising, something that he has believed in for well over 30 years and clearly no amount of PR noise is enough to mask this from a world (well a UK anyway) keen to find someone that has a different view of what they think really matters the most.

I guess this is not unlike a brand, the ones that stand the test of time have something meaningful at the heart that drives them and differentiates them: consumers know what they are about and if they are for them or not. The public has spoken, we can all see through the overly PR'd shades of the same grey peas. For me It's good news not bad news that proper belief, longevity and a real beating pumping heart has provided us all something to love or indeed hate again.

Jon Holcombe, solution designer, Mando Group

I think Corbyn's success is brilliantly progressive but is only the beginning. I think the most eye opening thing for me for both Corbyn and the previous general election is the power of social. Social media seems to be slowly chipping away at mainstream medias ability to influence our decisions as directly as it once did, this both scares me and excites me. Over the next few elections I see social media becoming a greater device for campaign marketing than traditional media, people do not trust it, people do trust their peers.

If the media operated as it should then its influence should be informative and insightful, it should be written for the people, without an agenda and should ultimately help give us the ability to make more informed decisions. Unfortunately the media doesn't operate this way, and frankly, it can't afford to. It is propped up by huge corporations as a mouth piece for their chosen agendas and is littered with opinion pieces and cheap shots.

Enter social media! Social media is now a platform from which people can easily disseminate accurate information and effectively allows us to call the bluff on the spin, PR and agendas. People can congregate around an ideal and celebrate its merits without being beholden to the guy who pays the bills, its fabulous! Or is it?

Social media is unchecked, there is no code of practice for sharing on social media and lies spread just as easily and quickly as the truth.

Corbyn holds many a great idea that is easy to celebrate on social media but will the reality of the ideals hold true? Can we afford what he is proposing? I truly hope so but honestly have no idea because I am no expert and if I am honest, neither are my friends.

Craig Lazenby, PR consultant, Strawberry

Is JC the answer to PR problem?

For a while now political PR has had a bit of a PR problem, much of which can be traced back to the onset of New Labour and a new way of ‘spinning’. This is when Alistair Campbell’s ‘Thick of It’ generation chose to publicise their own activity, stepping shamelessly into the limelight to illustrate just how slick and smart they were.

Wrong. Sharing an approach that came to be seen as contrived, manipulative, bullying, disingenuous and soulless, went some way to alienate both their hardcore support and a new political generation. Their collective confusion at the recent ‘Corbyn Surge’ suggests that they have lost none of their traditional skills, or arrogance.

A low-point came in 2011 with Ed Miliband’s bizarre TV interview in which he responded to every question with the same rehearsed statement. Damon Green, the ITV News correspondent, accused Miliband and his ‘PR handlers’ of putting on a 'convincing charade' of 'pretending to care'.

Green said that as he came to the last question of the disastrous interview, he felt an 'urge' to flippantly ask anything just to get a rise out of Miliband, like 'What is the world's fastest fish?', 'Can your dog do tricks?' or 'Which is your favourite dinosaur?' Unfortunately, he did not.

There was a lesson right there for anyone who puts together day-to-day PR campaigns. Under no circumstances should treating the public as an ignorant, unquestioning entity be seen as ‘playing safe’. The majority of people don’t take information on face value – so opting for blanket repetition, ‘subtle’ deviation, or downright deceit is a ‘strategy’ destined to fail.

At the moment, Corbyn is that rare thing: a politician who speaks like a real person, with few tired cliches, political slogans, party lines, or measured side-stepping. He appears principled, unassuming, polite and slightly dishevelled. Tragically, that is now refreshing.

Of course these are early days, and the rhetoric of change is much easier to conjure than change itself …but for now JC has shown us the way. Honesty, humility and frankness should always be viewed as the first and fastest way to being listened to, trusted and respected. After all, George Orwell told us that in a world of deceit, telling the truth ‘… is a revolutionary act’.

You never know, being a little more ‘human’ might become the next big thing.

Andrew Roberts, managing partner, Gravity Thinking

I think there is a big difference between a general election campaign and a party leader campaign. The latter of the two rarely happen and when they do they are mostly controlled and predictable affairs. This time it was difference Ed's crackpot idea of changing the voting rules meant that the recent Labour leadership election resulted in a quarter of a million new labour party members. So in the respect that the campaign created an unprecedented number of new Labour members it was a great success for the party. The fact that included an unknown number of 3 quid political tourists, unionites, and hard-left activists who I would guess aren't genuine labour supporters but support anti-heros and disrupters more generally is a matter that only Ed can answer to.

Having followed the electioneering closely it showed how social media has overtaken press led PR , as the Drum article says "It was social media wot won it”, indeed the ongoing burgeoning of support for JC was clearly apparent in the various posts on Facebook and Twitter some (but not all) of which was in response to the media coverage.

The apparent disconnect between more top level media ‘spin’ and the reality of people’s opinions was starkly identified by the fact that the papers were the last to realise that JC was going to be outright winner. If PR is going to remain relevant then it needs to keep itself more connected to the people – bit like Jeremy?

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