There are two ways to achieve an executive position in the modern world

PR definitely influences people’s choices
There are two ways to achieve an executive position in the modern world. For those who have ambitions to move from the executive to a government role, the usual pathway is to set up independently as an entrepreneur or alternatively, to be appointed using various PR tricks. Jacques Séguéla, French PR and advertising guru, names ten universal rules for pre-election campaigns. Among them are ‘voting for a person rather than a party’, ‘voting for a social image rather than a political image’ and ‘voting for ourselves rather than candidates’. A significant number of voters however, rely on an authoritative personality or PR techniques.

PR definitely influences people’s choices

Nikita Belyaev, the Liberal Club’s Administrative Director:

Almost all the attention of voters in the run up to the election is focused on the personalities of the candidates for a post. This is no surprise as these are the ‘faces’ of an election campaign. They are shown on TV and their photos appear on promotion leaflets. However, in most cases, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Any candidate is backed by a large team, including an advisor and a PR manager.

This raises many questions, are the voters being deceived by PR spin? In the past, most participants of an election campaign were self-managing candidates but modern PR approaches enhance features that candidates may lack in reality, and equally hide other traits. These risks are part of our society. Considering the development of modern mass media and the extent to which voters are involved in diverse communication methods, a refusal to use any PR methods would be perceived as deliberately perverse. PR makes it possible to efficiently inform voters about the campaign, while creating a competitive election process. This is the reality.

The positive or negative consequences of PR use are just one aspect of it. PR allows the possibility of including public interests in an election campaign. This is important as, to promote ideas, the candidate needs to be convinced that they are in high demand amongst the public. Voters can get a better picture of the candidates enabling them to make a well-thought-out and informed choice. Another advantage of PR is that it encourages stronger competition among pre-election manifestos: PR simplifies information sharing, while attracting greater attention to the process. Interest in election campaigns is piqued and encouraged with good PR, this is important in times of absenteeism and reduced turnout, the latter is an acute problem in the EU.

With independent candidates, as a rule, most of the attention, ideas and proposals are concentrated on a single personality. It is not only the candidate but their team that play an important role in the process by developing a pre-election programme and, in case of success, creating the advisory cabinet surrounding the elected candidate. Certainly PR also has disadvantages but these negative influences can be controlled through a developed election culture.

Accepting promises but respecting real deeds

Professor Boris Lepeshko:

In most cases, voters are pragmatic. If a person’s life experiences have allowed scepticism to develop, they are only ready to believe those who’ve shown themselves capable of concrete action. Why was Franklin Delano Roosevelt re-elected as the US President several times? The explanation is simple: most voters understood that the elderly man had done so much for his country. He challenged the Great Depression and was one of the victors in a serious war. Similarly, by the time Winston Churchill was selected for Parliament, he had taken part in the Boer War, escaped captivity, demonstrated extreme bravery during WWI and fought successful political programmes. He was a worthy candidate for the post. When we consider this, the futuristic ideas seen in the post-Soviet region can be explained (the state is young and elites are just being formed) but it’s impossible to believe that they would be able to attract the necessary numbers of voters.

Existing political techniques are primarily aimed at rational and, importantly, westernised voters. They can easily face the fate of some of the famous liberal projects of the 1990s, which were attempted in the post-Soviet area. We do not need any persuasion to see that Belarusian voters are dissimilar to those in the USA or Western Europe. This is not because the issues differ; but our social background, historical past and the nuances of our personalities are different. Just as the understanding of democracy and human rights differs in China, France, the UK or Iran, we have differing opinions on values.

Voters’ wishes are a key issue. The successful candidates won’t be those who promise manna from heaven but those who feel, think, love or hate in the manner of ordinary people. Not everyone loved General de Gaulle in the aftermath of the war in France: he was viewed as a monarchist, with a dictator’s behaviour. However, when people learnt how kindly he treated his chronically ill daughter, their opinions changed.

A pre-election campaign has been launched in Belarus. When we hear of ‘a prosperous country’, ‘peace in the world’ or that ‘God is with us’, we truly lack the personal touch. We all advocate a prosperous Belarus. We all dream of peace in our world and would love to know that God is always with us. However, these phrases lack innovation and personalisation.

I remember the former US President, Bill Clinton, spoke of the importance of renewal in the country during his pre-election campaign. He played on people’s desire for a younger ruling party who would introduce new young trends into political life. We also know of an example when a pre-election campaign was based on overcoming corruption. It later became clear that those were not only words but also a true political ambition. Conservatives speak of the importance of traditions, searching for a politician to represent a well-known family: as a result, a third of the Bush family has entered the political arena.

Any election campaign has to rely on voters’ thinking and their wishes: it’s the people who live in the country and theirs is the voice that matters.
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