Opinion: Some pre-election advice to our political leaders

Massey Business School's PR guru Dr Chris Galloway.

By Dr Chris Galloway, head of Massey's Public Relations programme. For more information on the Master of Public Relations, which he oversees, visit bit.ly/MasseyPR

Brace yourselves…as the election season ramps up, we’ll all face navigating the fog of political rhetoric, claims and counter-claims, the silly sloganeering and attempts at news-making (fake or not). If it’s confusing for us, spare a thought (but maybe only one or two) for aspiring pollies struggling to “get the message through”. What should they do to hook us in, persuade our wavering minds to take one direction or another, and ultimately tick the ‘right’ boxes on election day?

Here’s some only-slightly-tongue-in-cheek recommendations from a communication practitioner and academic – and it’s advice that applies outside the political arena as well.

It’s actually not about you – it’s about us

And we’re not passive message ‘targets’; we can actually think for ourselves and are determined to do so regardless. So show us that you respect us and don’t insult our intelligence with vapid mumblings.

Simplify, simplify, simplify

You might be enthusiastic about a given policy position, but if we’re not, we’re not going to listen to a long detailed ramble about why this or that policy is the best. Tell us briefly why it’s important to us. Simplicity might just give your message a chance of being heard, and remembered.

It’s not all about ‘social’

Facebook and the rest are important – sure. But so is what we talk about over our lattes, soy or otherwise, in the local coffee shop on a Saturday morning. Your business is to change conversations (for the right reasons).

There's no future in making groundless allegations, like a certain politician overseas.

Don't try to trump Trump

President Trump might be able to get away with a sustained stream of groundless allegations and strange non–sequiturs. Whether you’re given to tweeting or not, you’re not Trump, so lay off the wild words, the over-the-top claims that anyone with a decent brain (and that’s more of us than you might think) would dismiss out of hand.

Actions speak louder than words

I care more about what you’ve done than what you say you will – or might – do. Trust is built by experience of trustworthiness over time. Can you be trusted? If talk is cheap, trust isn’t. It can be hard to win but easy to lose. It’s one of your biggest assets. Make sure you tell us why we can trust you now, and going forward.

Short is sweet

If you can’t say it in two minutes, don’t say it at all. The average human attention span is now measured in seconds. Nearly 20 per cent of website visitors click away inside the first ten seconds, so keep it short. Only your family will want to read or hear your full speech. The rest of us just want you to cut to the chase.

Simple, to-the-point, trustworthy messaging. That’s what we all want at the end of the day; the hard part is knowing how to do it well.

Dr Chris Galloway heads Massey Business School’s public relations programme – including the new Master of Professional Public Relations – with a balanced mix of academic and practical insight, and a good sense of humour.

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