In today’s world where the pettiest of information related to a politician spreads like fire amongst the voters and where the electoral careers of even the bigwigs can end after the smallest media gaffe, more and more parties are taking help of “specialists” to come up with the optimal campaign strategies. Social media has become an inseparable part of every citizen’s life. The amount of influence that the internet and mobility command over the voters of this generation makes it imperative for campaigners to involve third party professionals who can help improve their public image. India in particular has seen a particularly exponential increase in the number of such consulting firms i.e. from 0 in 2005 to more than 50 today. This clearly indicates that campaigning has become a much more scientific and professional process in world’s largest democracy.
It is a common myth that political consulting is a branch of advertising industry when the surprising fact is that the advertising industry started as an offshoot of political consulting. These specialists or “political consultants” as we call them, are not newcomers in the advisory business. The first political-consulting organisation in the modern world, Campaigns, Inc., was started in San Francisco, by Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter back in 1933! Since then, such firms have tapped into the unlimited potential of politics making it their chief revenue source and provided their services to various campaigns year after year. These unbiased third party strategists assist their clients in wooing voters, glorifying their policies, chalking out their brand management program, running media propaganda, assessing voter sentiment and crunching numbers to bring out the best possible solutions. They use reliable ground reports and survey data as an input for powerful business frameworks that are equally effective in the political scenario. This allows them to minimise the uncertainty that is usually associated with campaigns. Unlike the election gurus of early times, the modern strategist considers politics as a science rather than an art.
Generally, the political consultants follow either one of the three basic consulting methodologies, namely
- Online advisory: This serves as a cost effective model in the well-connected world that we live in today. The consultant works remotely and communicates with you via emails, teleconference and instant messaging tools. This allows the consultant to conduct more field work without reporting back to the client site and thus saves considerable billing to the client. Many of the consultants today work via the online model as most of the firms have developed sufficient capabilities in terms of digital communication.
- In situ advisory: In this kind of a contract, the consultant works personally in the war zone as she/he shifts to the client office to be able to integrate with the staff and brainstorm with them over the strategies.
- Mixed advisory: This combines the first two methods and involves different levels of online and face to face interaction depending on the scope and criticality of the campaign.
Although every consulting firm has its own set of value proposition and service offerings, there exists a set of functions and capabilities that are expected to be present in every political advisory firm. These may vary from statistical analysis to public relation management. These are captured in detail below:
Market surveys:This includes categorising the polling areas into urban and rural areas. Post this market segmentation, the voters need to be studied in a scientific way as individuals as well as a community to get a grasp of the voter sentiment and behaviour. The resources include public opinion poll, interviews of focus groups, media information, TRPs, events happening prior to elections, social research data, and historical information. Based on all these factors, the consultant constructs a hypothesis regarding the collective psyche of the voters that stems from their needs, expectations and attitudes. These market survey techniques have also evolved with time as technology is now leveraged for primary research.
A thorough knowledge about the rival candidates strengths as well as weaknesses is always an important ingredient for making a successful strategy. The opposition researcher needs to dig up dirt and formulate a comprehensive report that may be as long as 1000 pages. They try to find gaps and incoherence between the promises made by the candidate and his way of operating in everyday life. One also needs to find the right public files and documents to strengthen their claims. It helps in constructing the political rhetoric for his client and to formulate a strategy as to when these things can be used against the opponent in public. This requires long hours of patiently browsing all public records, speeches, interview transcripts, and travelling to many places.
- Audit client’s image: A deep and objective analysis of the client’s strengths and weaknesses using the same techniques as used for market surveys and rival research is required in order to comprehend what kind of image is projected by the client in the minds of common people. It helps one to play to their strengths while curbing down on their weak areas.
- Campaign strategy Design:
- Public Image Building: Using the facets of your own image, the consultant tries to add value to your public image that increases visibility in public sphere. It also involves identifying certain brand elements such as a logo or a slogan or campaign photograph or a unique gesture code or maybe even a song or jingle that complements your message and makes you instantly recognisable in a positive way.
- Creation of campaign messages: It involves editing press releases, creating write ups and drafting important speeches, mass media channel scripts for TV and radio appearances, website development and email marketing. Using the right language is of utmost importance in elections.
- Preparation for public appearance: A good strategist will help the politician to get the maximum value out of every public appearance that she/he makes. It may also include masquerading in order to improve the quality of communication and oratory performances.
- Advertisement and PR: The right ad company needs to be selected for designing the campaign posters, flyers, digital ads, digital media, press ads, leaflets, TV spots and radio jingles. The candidate staff also needs to be trained about their behaviour in public and in front of media.
Crisis Management: A consultant comes to the forefront in times of political crisis or a media blunder. She/he has to be ready for any such situation and must come up with an immediate plan of action for damage control and grievance redressing. A defensive strategy always needs to be in place to avoid any of the attacks from opposition.
Follows the campaign: The consultant uses her/his experience to provide a better organisational structure to the election campaign. She/he is also responsible to monitor the progress of the campaign and see if there are any slacks left in the implementation of the devised plan.