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Navigating the run up to the general election

Back in my public sector days, the term ‘purdah’ used to fill me with dread. It meant uncertainty and delays. And it stopped me doing what I wanted and needed to do – which was to create content and run campaigns that do good.
Clare Lydon

Clare Lydon

3 minute read
June 4, 2024
Back in my public sector days, the term ‘purdah’ used to fill me with dread. It meant uncertainty and delays. And it stopped me doing what I wanted and needed to do – which was to create content and run campaigns that do good.
Navigating the run up to the general election Image

With the announcement of a snap election on 4 July, we once again find ourselves in ‘purdah’.

Now more commonly referred to as the ‘period of pre-election sensitivity’ - it still means the same thing. Business as usual stops whilst the politicians set out what they stand for.

And rightly so. It’s important that come election day the political parties have had the time and space to set out their offers, so the public can make an informed choice.

However, this period of heightened sensitivity (which began on 25 May) can be challenging for marketing and comms professionals in the public sector to navigate.

Impartiality is key

The basic principle is that all government departments, public bodies and local authorities must remain impartial, and should not undertake any activity that could call into question their political impartiality, or give rise to criticism that public resources are being used for party political purposes or to influence voters.

In addition, public sector organisations cannot be seen to be competing with the election campaign for the public’s attention.

There’s lots of guidance on the subject. We’ve found some of the most useful to be the Government’s own election guidance for Ministers and civil servants and this guidance specifically for local authorities.

Basically, essential business (to ensure the smooth running of government and core services) is allowed to continue, but pretty much everything else grinds to a halt. Live campaigns are paused, planned campaigns are postponed, consultations are delayed and speaking engagements are pulled. It can be a frustrating time for marketing and comms professionals in the public sector – as your strategic priorities are put on the back burner until the election is over.

But fear not! There is still plenty you can be doing during this period to get ahead.

We’ve pulled together some top tips on how to navigate the pre-election period...

1

Focus on the essentials

The Government guidance indicates that ‘essential’ national campaigns - for example health and safety, recruitment and public health campaigns - may continue (with agreement from Government Communications Services (GCS)).

Network Rails Distraction Kills campaign

So too can pre-existing local campaigns on important issues like foster care, recycling and recruitment – that are essential to the smooth running of core public services and are not deemed likely to influence the outcome of the election.

Wiltshire Council foster carer recruitment campaign

So, focus your efforts on your ‘essential’ campaigns. Use the extra time and headspace to make them as effective as possible. Review your analytics, identify where you can make optimisations and implement these improvements. Create additional content and assets to refresh your campaigns and improve their performance.

If you’re not sure if your campaign is ‘essential’, then check with GCS. For clarity, if a campaign could be deemed likely to influence the outcome of the election, then you should stop or postpone it. For example, if the campaign is on an issue which has been the subject of political debate.

2

Stick to the facts

If in doubt stick to the facts. The guidance states that all communications should be kept to matters of fact. So, if you’re not sure what you can and cannot say, simply stick to the facts of the matter.

Environment agency flooding driving safety campaign

Use any data at your disposal to create compelling factual content for your social media channels.

If you're required to do any publicity relating to policies and proposals from central government, ensure they're balanced and fully accurate.

3

Plan ahead

Use the time wisely and plan ahead, so you’re ready to go as soon as parliament is back sitting. If you don’t have an up-to-date comms plan – work on this. If you do have a plan, think about how it might need to change depending on the outcome of the election. Review the political parties manifestos to consider how they might impact your priorities.

Once you’re clear on what you’re priorities are – start actioning them. Use this time to write really good briefs, so you can get your projects started.

If you don’t have a preferred agency, use this time to find the right agency partner(s) for your brief(s). And get your agency(ies) underway! There’s nothing to stop you from getting your campaigns and content prepared, so you’re ready to go live in July.

 

Now let’s get to it...

If we can help in any way, please do reach out. Otherwise, we’ll see you on the other side!