Lessons From the Campaign Trail

Strategic Communications

June 19, 2014

Today’s environment for multinational businesses is complex, crowded and chaotic. It places increasing demands on transparency and accountability and involves many competing stakeholders. In short, it is highly political. Leo Wood looks at the parallels between the communications challenges facing the corporate world and politics, and identifies the top lessons from the campaign trail for businesses seeking to manage reputation effectively.

Where Business and Politics Meet

In April this year, more than 535 million Indians headed to the polls, the largest cohort of voters the world has ever seen. In total, 40% of the global population is electing their leaders in 2014. Across continents, political campaigns are trying to mobilise and shift public opinion in ways that are similar to the challenges facing multinational businesses. This convergence of business and politics is being driven by four key trends:

People Power

The most important development is the explosion of people power, driven by the spread of the internet. Equipped with nothing more than a smartphone, Ordinary Joe today has the power to influence reputations of businesses. Huge conversations are taking place on a constant basis via blogs, forums, customer review portals, social media platforms and websites. Often aggressive and emotional, they have the power to alter and determine mainstream perceptions of corporates in an instant and narratives can grow from nowhere.

Amazon, Google and Starbucks all took hits when it emerged that they had been minimising their UK tax liability through tax avoidance tactics. While in the past the story may well have been confined to the business pages of a newspaper, the story was amplified through its dissemination across the internet and social media.

Andrew Work, publisher of the Harbour Times, a media group serving the political and diplomatic community in Hong Kong, identifies a new empowered generation who have the ability to start powerful campaigns from scratch: “People can marshal their resources effectively without either governments or businesses.” This development is an irreversible transformation of the way public conversation is formed and aired.

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