What can agents learn from what was almost certainly the worst electoral campaign in memory?
It was certainly a case of how not to sell yourself – and I am writing this as a younger, thirty-something estate agent.
- Knowing your client
- Not being arrogant
- Control your controllables
- Negativity never sells
- Standing by your convictions
In the early hours of last Friday, sensing a political upset like no other, I typed into Google ‘Why did May call the election?’ The auto-fill started coming up: ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’
A chicken crossing the road is an irrelevance and completely unexpected event. The British public saw this election as both.
There was already a mandate for Brexit and a 17-seat majority. Theresa May did not think that majority was enough and on that basis called a General Election.
My, oh my! What she would give for a 17-seat majority today! The irrelevance felt by the calling of the snap general election turned to a feeling that May was pursuing an arrogant agenda.
After claiming several times there would be no General Election until 2020 in line with fixed term legislation and that we should get on with Brexit, she basically called it on her belief that Labour and Lib Dem politicians were threatening to derail her Brexit negotiations – which had not started in any meaningful way.
So now with my business hat on, what can we learn for where PM May finds herself today?
- Control your controllables
May was running scared of a prospect she could not control. Opposition politicians making your life difficult? Sorry, proposing to make your life difficult?
Do you: a) Make your case and rely on the goodwill of the British people to realise that perhaps the negotiations won’t go exactly as planned given your small majority and that you were thrust into somebody’s else’s picture (take a bow Cameron, Gove and Johnson), or do you:
b) Hand a megaphone to your competition for eight weeks while your team runs the most ineffectual general election campaign I can remember.
Faced with the above, and incidentally, massive approval in various opinion polls, May chose option b on the basis she wanted a stronger negotiating hand and ‘a clear mandate’.
The point here is she had the control – we knew the context. What she couldn’t control was the power of the opposition campaign and the coming of age of a candidate who has been vilified and written off so many times.
Control the controllable? May unleashed the uncontrollable machine of party politics. She handed Corbyn the opportunity he craved – and he took it and ran a great race.
Negativity does not sell – great communication does
The campaign was meant to be about setting out the Brexit campaign and sending May’s negotiating team to Brussels on a tidal wave of patriotism.
As an active voter I take a reasonable interest in politics and the Tory campaign was negative and focused on attacking Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott. It should have defined how voting for May would prosper the country during and after the Brexit negotiations.
Was nothing learnt from the Brexit campaign and the politics of fear? By focusing on the enemy and not amplifying their own credentials, the Conservative campaign fell way short of expectations and tried to determine how the electorate should react.
The spell cast by the Tory manifesto was negative.
Instead of leading on the positives, we got a complex social care policy that no one understood, and kids losing school meals. This was completely ineffectual communication.
Good communication and selling starts with listening.
If May had consulted meaningfully on the election as opposed to locking herself in a room with her advisers Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, she would have seen that the appetite for another election was very limited with the electorate – as Brenda from Bristol instantly remarked.
To combine this arrogance with such negativity over a person’s potential choice as leader of the country was, for an experienced politician, breath-taking.
Having received sponsored social media campaigning from both parties based on my age (35) and location (west London) I can only determine that Labour was on message both in meaning and visual, and the Conservative language may have mistook me for a middle-aged voter who was around when media was printed not digital.
Don’t be for turning – Life is not an opinion poll
A client tried to accuse me recently of back-tracking.
I told him categorically this was not the case. When I make commitments to clients and give advice I stand by it.
PM May spent an election back-tracking and by the close of play was a shadow of the confident lady that stood on the steps of Number 10 calling the surprise election.
By the end of the campaign everything that came out of her mouth seemed cushioned in context that would enable her to blur its meaning if the opinion wind blew the other way. Even talking about repelling aspects of the Human Rights Act in light of the terrorist atrocities she seemed wishy-washy.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s legacy gets better year on year given the exposure and rigour of today’s football. I am in no way fan of the teams he managed, but he was the greatest British manager in my lifetime.
He made it clear that he made the decisions and it was up to the players to like him – not for him to like them. A true leader.
May seemed incapable of making decisions and seemed to be compromising herself at every turn.
For people looking at the two candidates, one stood out by standing up for what he believed in (whether you agreed with the policies or not).
Ultimately that belief and growing charisma enabled a snowball to grow against a prime minister who looked both over-eager to please everybody and yet arrogant and aloof in equal measure.
So, what can we as agents learn from the worst campaign in my memory?
We need to know our client like never before; guide them to the finish line; not arrogantly assume we know their mind; control our controllables; and we need to stand by our convictions and not fade to the latest opinion.
* Donald Collins is sales director of Go View London