PA professionals are increasingly having to look beyond their government relations comfort zone. Campaigning more widely around their issues, and the practice of informing, engaging and building a wider support base than previously required – whether via on or offline channels – is ever more important.
Why? In short, because the mechanics that dictate the political process have become far more complex. Until a few decades ago, the process was determined by a minority largely comprising politicians and big business. Joe Public was not especially bothered, because he was usually not opinionated about things taking place far beyond his backyard. His reality was structured according to a number of inevitabilities: the same which structured his parents’ and peers’ lives, say the Church everyone went to, or the party everyone in town voted for.
And now? A number of factors have ensured that this, rather static, reality has been radically transformed. Mobility has meant people move around and mix, exposing them to more outlooks and isolating them from the conformity which made everyone think and act the same, while ideology and religion are increasingly irrelevant in determining people’s beliefs and values.
Instead, a different set of values is taking hold, often based around issues like personal freedom, fairness, health, equality or the environment. In parallel, independence and the growing trend towards a strong sense of personal expression and rights, has emboldened people: they are now more demanding in asking “what’s in it for me?”
This is reflected in how they approach politics, and hence the term “constituent-consumer”. Citizens are less likely to select politicians based on age-old affiliations, but rather, they act like consumers: they shop around, and either look for matching values (Politician X thinks we should save the whales, just like me) or someone who is likely to lead to personal gain (Politician Y is more likely to cut stamp duty on my new house – or Politician Z is anti-business and thus more pro-Joe Public like me.)
As a result, politicians are having to pay heed to the constituent-consumer. And concurrently, PA professionals on a number of high-profile issues increasingly need to look at how they can win over the same constituent-consumer, knowing that no matter who they have on speed dial or how good their body of intelligence, they’ll be fighting a losing battle if they are on the wrong side of wider opinion. Which means engaging in reputation management and building sizeable coalitions far from the government relations comfort zone.
Mildly paranoid note/get out of jail card: I think my reference to the constituent-consumer in this context is my own, and a quick Google search has not revealed that scores of people have been using it for years. If it turns out I picked it up somewhere and am not referencing it, I promise, I’m not trying to pass something off as my own that’s clearly not. If indeed this term is someone else’s, please let me know and I will amend. Thanks.