PR lessons from the Conservative leadership contest


Once Theresa May announced her resignation on May 24, it was clear that the next two months would be a gold mine for those who love the world of PR. With nine candidates having officially jumped into the race, the following weeks of successive votes narrowing down the list of candidates to two was an exciting watch.

As every candidate who wasn’t Boris Johnson tried to make a name for themselves, they had to employ a wide variety of PR tactics. The campaign featured some public relations masterstrokes and even more PR blunders, which is why we at MediaHQ have decided to go into detail about the PR lessons which can be learnt from the Conservative Leadership Contest.

#RoryWalks–Cringe can be good

If there’s one person who exceeded all expectations in the leadership race, it was MP for Penrith and The Border, Rory Stewart. Virtually unknown when entering the race, he made a name for himself as the “Remainer” candidate with his famous (or infamous to some) #RoryWalks videos. In what was described as “an Alan Partridge-esque social media hit”, Stewart would spend hours walking around UK town centres, talking to anyone and everyone about his policies. These unedited videos featured engaged debate as well as a few moments of disengaged apathy from the people he approached. The raw and unpolished nature of these videos, along with Stewart’s admirable enthusiasm, turned him into somewhat of a cult figure, which propelled his campaign much closer to Number 10 than initially thought possible.

Michael Gove–Be consistent

The biggest PR crisis that any spin doctor had to deal with during this campaign was the story that broke about Michael Gove’s cocaine usage. This became an even bigger story because it had been shown that he had most likely consumed the drug after pushing the government to take a harder stance on cocaine usage. The damage that this did to his campaign was irreparable. It was clear that there had been a lack of consistency throughout his political career. The PR lesson from this is that if you are seen not be consistent on your positions and plans, you will not be popular with the public.

Boris Johnson–Silence is bliss

All Boris Johnson had to do in this campaign was not mess up. He was the heavy favourite to win. As of July 18, PaddyPower have him at 1/33 odds to be the next PM. All the other candidates were desperate for a chance to launch an attack which would knock him from pole position. So what did Johnson’s PR team do? They didn’t give them the chance. For the first debate, the only one where most of the candidates would have had an opportunity to challenge him before their elimination, Boris didn’t show up. When the PR issue allows you to, fight your battles where and when they suit you most.
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