By Hugo Greenhalgh on 28 Apr 2015
Conservatives’ small businesses letter is another example of bad political PR
With Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna showing support for the nation’s small businesses last week, it was over to the Conservatives to respond. This came in the form of a 5,000-signature strong letter of endorsement from a wide range of the UK’s small businesses and was published as an exclusive in The Daily Telegraph.
However, while this could have been a real statement of backing for the Tories it has already turned into a PR nightmare. The observant quickly noticed that if you downloaded the letter as a PDF from the Telegraph website, the file’s author was “CCHQ-Admin” – Conservative Campaign Headquarters. So rather than a product of the small business’ initiative, the letter was actually a creation of the Conservative electioneering machine.
Furthermore, the Tories had in fact been collecting small business signatures for the past couple of weeks based on a petition that Baroness Karren Brady – a Conservative life peer – had helped to publicize. Overnight it had become clear that this was anything but an independent document and very much a piece of Party spin.
The use of computers and the growth of the Internet have undoubtedly reshaped the process of communications and PR over the past two decades. While it is infinitely easier to broadcast a message through online and social media, this has meant that attention-to-detail and technological intelligence needs to be sharper than ever. In the age of information, proof-reading and double-checking are no less important.
It has also emerged that some of the signatories didn’t even want to be on the list. For example, software firm Aurum Solutions asked CCHQ to remove their name from the document. Meanwhile, some of the more meticulous bloggers out there have done some research into the companies on the list and found out that a number of them are dissolved or in liquidation. These mistakes should serve as a reminder to those who work in PR that one should never misquote an organization. Equally, it is just as important to check facts. Listing the names of businesses that no longer exist simply looks downright lazy.
In hindsight, the Conservatives will probably be wondering if this story was worth it given the negative attention it’s created. After all, according to the FSB there are an estimated 5.2 million small businesses in the UK so a list of 5,000 names accounts for less than 0.1% of that figure. Yet an IT error has turned this potential piece of positive news into a PR blunder.
While the General Election won’t be decided on mistakes like this alone, they do inform wider public perceptions of the Parties’ competence and reliability. However, it’s also a helpful prompt for us all to check our facts and stay on top of our filing.