A politician's guide to protecting and enhancing reputation

October 8, 2013 by Sophie Hunt

If business people find managing their reputations a tough challenge, spare a thought for the politicians.  As party conference season draws to a close, across the UK politicians will be evaluating their performance in a bid to discover whether they’ve emerged with their reputations intact or even enhanced.

Given that the good name of MPs has taken a battering over the last few years and that they typically rival estate agents as the least respected profession, it’s tough for an individual MP to develop a strong and positive reputation.

Without doubt, it used to be easier for our esteemed political leaders to get away with the occasional faux pas or misguided comment during their week long jamborees. Now, however, thanks to technological advances and the advent of social media, very little slips past the eagle-eyed voters or political hacks.

Society’s desire for accessible, 24/7 coverage means that journalists have a constant void to fill. As a result, anything that happens at conference – be it Leicester East MP Keith Vaz’s enthusiastic dancing or Home Secretary Theresa May’s choice of shoes – is perceived as fair game.

So against this backdrop of intense media and public scrutiny, what would my top tips be for politicians who want to stand out from the herd, protect their reputations and communicate their messages effectively?

Understand your target audience
Well for starters, they must really know their target audiences and the subjects that motivate them. Whatever your political views, you have to acknowledge that Labour leader Ed Miliband’s plan to freeze energy prices was a sure fire winner with the cash-strapped electorate. Equally, the recent  pledge by Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to provide free school meals to children under eight won praise from teachers and families.

Keep it simple
Secondly, I’d have told them to keep it simple. Too many politicians deal in woolly ideas and grand concepts and lose their audience in the process. Effective communication is about conveying your message in a compelling, accessible way. Just think of David Cameron’s new strapline for Britain – “a land of opportunity for all”.

Display empathy
Another tip high on my list would have been an ability to demonstrate genuine empathy. The politician who can prove they care more for the electorate than personal gain is a rare beast and one guaranteed to fare better in the public’s eyes.  Being distinctive is a rare and valuable quality in any walk of life.

Be honest
And finally, I’d have told them to be honest.  Honesty is not a quality readily associated with our politicians, so the MP who proves to be straight talking immediately differentiates themselves from the crowd.  Reputations are built on trust and integrity and there are no prizes for those who bury their heads in the sand or manipulate the truth.

So, as the sun sets on the conference season and the next election campaign gets underway, there’s no doubt we’re about to experience communication overload as politicians buoyed by hours of media training try to get their messages across.

The very best political orators – Martin Luther King and Winston Churchill for example – knew how to connect with people with passion and authenticity.  Today’s soundbite-ridden politician (and the over-trained corporate spokesperson) would do well to remember that the next time a microphone is placed under their nose.

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