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02 December 2019

250: Think about tour political audience

Politicians are not all the same. It is not just their positions or outlooks that vary but also how they like to receive their information. We all need to take the time to fully understand them.

We recently had a talk from Sarah Newton about intergenerational working. Whilst the focus was on addressing the issues in the workplace, it seemed clear to me that anyone involved in communications needs to consider these issues as well.

For public affairs, this is especially true as generations of politicians start to change. This can sometimes feel that it is happening only slowly and the media always has a huge interest in the youngest MP to enter the House.

This House of Commons Library paper on the social background of MPs, 1979-2017, makes for interesting reading. It suggests that ‘since 1979, the average age of MPs has remained around 50 years’ but even so, one cohort of MPs is not the same as the next. The communications preferences of a 50 year old in 1979 is not the same as one now.

There are the very obvious examples that the channels for communications change, whether that be though social media or the ways in which the ‘traditional’ media operates.

But there are also wider generational traits that might need to be considered as well. These could impact on the way you engage with politicians, the options you offer them during any engagement or even through to how events are run.

So for, for instance, taking just two examples. The oft-maligned millennials (typically those born 1981-1996) really want to be asked about their opinions and want flexibility in the way the work. Gen Z-ers (typically those born 1996-2010) are digital natives, want to express their individuality and are confident in their abilities.

This is only an extremely brief mention of an obviously more complex and complicated set of literature but just having the wider appreciation of these characteristics should provide an opportunity to take stock about political engagement. In other words, politicians aren’t just one ‘blob’ and instead engagement will be more effective when you take the time and effort to drill down a little more.

If there is the opportunity to tailor the approach, for instance, offering them a greater degree to input, or an ability to help drive the agenda forward then could deliver more effective public affairs. We are, of course, sometimes constrained in what we can say and do. However, where the edges of the campaign can be pushed to reflect the likely approach of the audience then we should push for what may be possible.

There are prejudices about every generation (lazy millennials, anyone?) and some will pick apart such theories as being overlapping or too simplistic. But at least having a general understanding better equips us to communicate effectively and political audiences should be no different.

Very often when communicators are thinking about generational issues it is often as a way of trying to work out how to sell them things! At the session I had the pleasure of attending, the emphasis was on better working relationships but generational issues impact on everything from reputation, to cause-related marketing, ethical behaviour and sourcing, or the need for CEOs to be more ‘activist’. These all have a direct relationship with political engagement as well. Some of the issues are considered in this piece from McKinseys.

Especially in a post-election environment, we should give some thought to generational issues. It might just make us even more effective in our public affairs.

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