How the media should vote tomorrow

Posted on 05/05/2010


What a mixed bag for the media this election has been.

It’s demonstrated dramatically how style can triumph over substance, how poor presentation can lose audiences and how the most persuasive messages are simple and positive.  It’s also shown that social media may not be able to deliver knock out blows, but is vital in creating advocacy for campaigns.

All good news for us marketing disciples.

But less documented is the damaging impact a Conservative government could have on the industry itself.

Let me explain…

It was to be the social media election.  We would all decide our votes based on Twitter, Facebook and maybe even Foursquare.

Well not quite but it has been influential.

Social media has been more of a bystander and commentator rather than leaders of the news or advocacy, but it hasn’t lost its purpose.

DemocracyUK, the Slapometer and even #labourcakepuns have all helped engage voters and the social media sphere has done what it does best – enabling people to have conversations.

So while it will be interesting to see the outcome of planned research into how social media (or rather what you and your friends discussed on social media) influenced voting behaviour, I personally hope that the more campaigning side to social media returns.

In fact, there have been a couple of examples of where social media has (at least tried to) set the agenda. Kerry4MP’s blunder and #phlipastroud have been notable examples.

Which brings me onto how I’ll be voting…

As a colleague pointed out, one example doesn’t make a whole party nasty.  But, sadly for every Margot James, there is a Philipa Stroud.

Similarly, for every Dianne Abbot or Tom Watson there is a Bob Blizzard (i.e. an MP who will trudge through the voting lobbies on behalf of his party). And for every hard working Lib Dem, like Lynne Featherstone, there is a quirky colleague – Lembit Opik or Anna Arrowsmith for your MP anyone?!

There is no substitute for a good local candidate.  But, in many, many constituencies less than 50 per cent of the electorate vote for the winning candidate.  This is unfair. And the expenses scandal has shown just what our politicians can get up to if not held in check – and simply saying people have a right to recall MPs just isn’t enough.

Simply put, the politicians are more accountable if every vote counts. And the best way to ensure better, more accountable candidates is voting reform.  The list system is not the way forward, as we do need to protect the need for local candidates linked to their constituency – which makes me favour single transferable vote or alternative vote systems.

And the best way to guarantee this reform is a hung parliament.

I don’t buy the fact that Britain’s economy will suffer with a hung Parliament – credit agencies don’t have a problem with it, nor does the City and, according to the FT, neither should it impact on sterling.  In fact, people now seem to be lining up to say it will benefit everyone from young people to the Scots.

So my decision comes down to which sort of coalition government would I prefer? And let’s be clear, a deal struck between parties to ensure a stable coalition will need to happen – a minority government would not be a good idea.

Well, my own fears about what the Tories would do for gay rights and civil liberties aside, the decision has to be fundamentally economic.  How far do I want the cuts to go – and when?

Which brings me back to marketing.

Set aside the disturbing impact that immediate, savage spending cuts will make on the lives of everyday families, not to mention the deflating impact on our economy, the marketing sector – now a significant slice of UK plc – is simply not ready to see cuts of 40 per cent in public sector spending on marketing and communications in 2010/20111.

When the Conservatives make fun of government waste, they include marketing budgets in this.

The Conservative pledge is to reduce Central Office of Information spending alone back to 1997 levels.  While marketing agencies need to continue to make strides in evaluating their work, proving the impact of their campaigns and reducing their reliance on the public sector overall, the replacement for his government spending from the private sector isn’t there yet.

The reality of implementing such cuts is that they are applied with a blanket approach – every £1 of marketing spend should be reduced to 60p (and just because one segment of the industry says it is more effective than another won’t mean it is safe).

This won’t just affect agencies and mean job losses in public sector communications departments, but it will have an impact on the wider media industry.

With an annual budget of £208m spent on advertising space by the government, cutting this to £124m will leave huge holes in newspaper, online and TV advertising schedules – and the latest Institute of Practitioners in Advertising report showed a very mixed picture for the industry in 2010, with almost as many marketing directors saying they will cut budgets as will increase them.

With the majority of any increased advertising spend likely to be online and a reapportioning of budgets away from TV and print, it is ironic that those media outlets who celebrate cutting waste are in many ways turkeys voting for Christmas.

The private sector just isn’t ready to fill the hole which would be left by 40% cuts in public sector spending this year – the cuts need to be made, but need to be less severe and less immediate than the Conservatives propose.

It really is the economy that matters – the country can’t take a chance with the recovery and I can’t vote for cuts now.

Vote Labour (or Lib Dem depending where you live).