Theory Junkie: Political Public Relations

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I’m a sucker for theories and I love talking about them.

In today’s episode of the Theory Junkie, we explore McNair’s definitions of Political PR.

As I mentioned in the last edition of the programme, McNair defines Political Communication as practicing political advertising and PR.

But what is political PR all about?

According to McNair, it is comprised of four pillars: Media Management or Issues Management; Image Management or Political Marketing; Internal Communication, and Information Management.

In the context of Political PR, Media Management “comprises activities designed to maintain a positive politician-media relationship”. Its purpose is to “tap into the needs and demands of the modern media and thus maximise politicians’ access to, and exposure in, free media”. Since media management’s objective is to preserve visibility and showcase political definitions and solutions, it can also be seen as issues management.

Image Management strives to stimulate the public likability of a politician. It has to do with the personal image of a politician, “but also how it can be moulded and shaped to suit organisational goals”. This is why it is also referred to as Political Marketing: “In the area of personal image, modern politicians are judged not only by what they say and do, but how they say and do it”. McNair argues that, much like classic marketing, political communicators “must first establish the ‘core values’ of the party’s target audience, which then become the basis for selling the organisation as the one best able to defend and reflect those values”.

In the context of Political PR, Internal Communication deals with, above all else, uniformity. It is concerned with making sure that all relevant parties “are aware of the message to be delivered at any given time”. Internal Communication ensures that activities are coordinated and the internal political apparatus, be it party- or politician- specific, is effective in managing and transmitting relevant information to functionaries.

Information Management involves “activities designed to control or manipulate the flow of information from institutions of government to the public sphere beyond”. In essence, it is a form of selective information manipulation and an important element in public opinion management. Governments and Oppositions alike make use of this technique with the difference being that a ruling party often restricts and distorts, while an opposition party may look to expose and popularise.

McNair once again provides us with simple definitions that make our heads nod in agreement. These four activities are certainly what politicians are trying to do in their effort to win an election or run a memorable mandate. However, If I have to identify one overwhelmingly important pillar, I would have to choose between Political Marketing and Information Management.

Yes, Political Marketing wins campaigns in our world of celebrity politics, but social media seems to be the one that brings down rulers while at the same time marginalising classic Media Management. As it stands now there seems to be no better vehicle for mass information dissemination than the Internet and while the image of politicians can be boosted immensely through Facebook, the exposure of their failures on Twitter can lead to their resignations the next day.

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