By Lindsay McGarvie, Director, 3x1 Group
With just four weeks to go till the General Election, politicians the length and breadth of the country are out kissing babies, opening fetes and tweeting like mad, all in pursuit of every potential vote.
So I’ve run the rule over how the main party leaders are faring in the election PR campaign so far.
The Prime Minister had one of the best PR tools of all at her disposal – the element of surprise. So she was on the front foot with her snap election announcement that seemed to catch her opponents napping.
Mrs May and her spin-doctors may be driving political hacks bonkers with her “strong and stable” mantra. But they know that playing such positive catchphrases on a loop works. Say, say it again and then recap what you just said, is a tried, tested and trusted technique for the best campaigners.
Just ask Tony Blair whether his chanting “Education, education, education” worked. It did, to deadly effect in his ’97 landslide victory.
Mrs May proved this week that the old political PR tricks are sometimes the best, choosing to be interviewed on the One Show alongside husband Phillip. Just as Maggie Thatcher’s favourite interviews were with Radio 2’s Jimmy Young, Mrs May and her PR gurus know that the teatime magazine programme might not be a cutting edge interview, but it helped her gets to her core voters and beyond.
So the PM is having a good election from a PR perspective without really having to do anything groundbreaking.
And with her healthy lead in the polls over a Labour party at sixes and sevens, neither Mrs May nor her spinners will be contemplating a u-turn on the decision to avoid the risks of a live TV leaders debate.
The Labour leader makes little attempt to hide his contempt for the presentation advice and support that top politicians benefit from.
Not for him sharp suits and makeover haircuts. In fact it’s fair to say that Jeremy Corbyn makes a virtue of that fact that he’d rather be known for substance over style. After all, he became Labour leader, twice, on an anti-spin ticket and is living up to that reputation in this election.
The job of his media advisers and handlers is a bit of a nightmare as he isn’t one for a vote-winning pithy turn of phrase. So we haven’t heard – and don’t expect to hear – any Trump-esque rallying cries to make “Britain great again”.
Rejecting sound bite politics, Mr Corbyn has to rely on his team to help him woo floating voters with Labour’s policies. That backfired big-time when Diane Abbott flubbed her sums on the cost of 10,000 extra bobbies on the beat. Even non-Labour supporters were hiding behind the couch at the cringe-worthy gaffe.
Trailing the Tories in the polls by a couple of country miles, Mr Corbyn looks like a man in need of a lucky break. But that doesn’t appear to be forthcoming.
Even the set piece event of any election campaign, the unveiling of the manifesto has been a PR disaster for Mr Corbyn when it was leaked nearly a week before it was due to be released.
Mr Corbyn might not like to rely on PR counsel. But boy he could sure use some right about now.
From a PR perspective the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon’s general election campaign has had more stunts and photo opportunities so far than we’ve come to expect from her.
Over the last week the First Minister has gone to pains to keep the focus away from independence, and we have seen a good-humoured side to her with photo-calls involving pies, pints. We’ve even a mock twitter attack by her hubby Peter.
The First Minister is arguably the most able public speaker and debater of all four party leaders. She might love a good “selfie” for her twitter account. But unlike Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, playing up to the cameras doesn’t come naturally to her.
But she seems to have tackled that head on over the first full week of electioneering, as she was pictured pulling pints at a brewery in Perth and helping to make and then savouring a haggis pie adorned with the SNP logo.
Which led to her other half and SNP party boss Peter Murrell poking fun at the FM on Twitter saying: “Things I’ve learned today, @NicolaSturgeon cooks”. She famously doesn’t – except it seems if it makes a good election snap and helps her likeability ratings.
Of course Ms Sturgeon has the job of continuing to run the bread and butter of the country while the campaign goes on. So she won’t want too many more stories like falling literacy levels coming out over the coming month to spoil her chances of repeating the incredible tally of 56 MPs that she won in 2015.
It’s fair to say that Tim Farron is the least known of the political leaders in this General Election. And he’s got a tough job to find innovative ways to try and woo voters back to the Lib Dems and build on a miserly haul of just eight MPs in the 2015 vote.
From a PR perspective he has a mountain to climb, with his party is still in the doldrums thanks to its highly unpopular past coalition with the Tories. In fact his top message over the past week is that he won’t do any post election deal with Labour or even the Greens.
He might be trying his damnedest to try and wipe out the memory of their time power sharing with David Cameron. But that doesn’t mean that Mr Farron hasn’t been averse to nicking PR tricks from the Tories. In a radio interview this week he used the phrase “strong opposition” at least a dozen times, in a clear echo of Theresa May’s “strong and stable government” line.
He also appeared a bit wishy-washy and in search of sympathy votes when he said that a Tory landslide was “inevitable”.
The one area that the Lib Dem leader didn’t pull his punches was in his attack on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, describing them as “an opposition which is not only not an alternative government, but not even an effective opposition”.
But of course, it’s easy to kick a party or a leader when they’re already down.