Delhi MCD 2017 – An election won & an election lost on communication strategy alone. 5 Important PR lessons to be learnt

The Delhi MCD results are out. The incumbent has swept the polls despite doing not such a great job (as per popular perception) in the last decade or so. And still, the average intelligent Delhiite has voted for them! That does sound odd to an average intelligent, educated adult human being – voting for incompetent incumbents.

I am no expert on politics, and this is not a treatise on the whys and wherefores of a party’s political wins or another party’s political loss in the MCD elections.

Instead, in this write-up, we will explore why did the electorate vote for an ‘incompetent incumbent’? What did the winner say (or didn’t) in its campaign? What did the opposition say (or didn’t) in its campaign? Common sense says that if the BJP had been doing a poor job at the MCD, it should have been smooth sailing to the victor’s podium for AAP and other challengers (not counted here).

Even with such a conducive environment how did AAP manage to lose the battle of the MCD? And just where did AAP lose the battle? Did AAP lose the battle at the buttons of the allegedly ‘rigged’ EVMs? Or did it lose the battle because the Delhiwalas don’t know what is right for them – We average people would think that AAP- the major challenger would have told the electorate what is good for them? Or did AAP forget to do just that?

Just what did the winner and loser say (or did not say) to sway the electorate – an electorate which had chosen the loser side just two years back with an overwhelming majority for a higher office of governance? Via the same ‘rigged EVMs’ …!

There are 5 communication lessons to be learnt from the run-up to the MCD elections and from the results.

1. Admit your mistakes

a. First and the foremost PR and communication lesson learnt is – Always and always admit your mistakes and shortcomings – especially with reference to any promises you might have made to the same audience.

The winner did it so. How? The BJP simply agreed that things had not been done right the past few years. Their agreement also reflected in their actions. The party also communicated this sentiment to the electorate when it made sure that none of the incumbent members got a ticket to fight the elections. The party brought in all new fresh-faced, untried, untested candidates, begged the electorate to ‘give a chance to fresh faces’ with a new promise to deliver. And the electorate saw the new faces, heard the promise. It also heard shortcomings being admitted.

Lesson Learnt – Admitting your mistake disarms an otherwise hostile/unfavourable audience immediately. Admission of mistake followed with appropriate actions is favourably perceived by others as your first step towards making things right.

2. Leverage your strong Top Leadership –

It’s a maximum reward @minimum effort strategy

a. Many would argue that leveraging PM Modi’s leadership plank for a Municipal Corporation election exposes the weakness in the lower ranks of the winning party. I beg to differ. If there is already Sunlight everywhere would you still light oil lamps to show the way? Nah…Oil lamps are anyways useless and futile in the strong sunlight. Make use of the readily available Sunlight then; with pride.

And that is just what the winner did. Its top leader – already the country’s PM is a popularly accepted leader by the masses. The electorate does listen to him. The winning party just leveraged its advantage.

Lesson Learnt – While communicating a message to your client/target audience, leverage all advantages that you have. It makes the task tad easier too. Also the chances, of reception of the message just as you meant it; are much higher.

3. Blaming others or dishing out excuses for your losses never begets you gains

a. Don’t know about AAP – but I sure have learnt this huge lesson today. AAP leadership is going hoarse by blaming its nationwide losses on allegedly ‘faulty EVMs.’ The same EVMs did bring the same AAP leadership state level powers in 2015. Perhaps then too EVMs were rigged!

Lesson Learnt – Never make your losses a story of Fox and the sour grapes. Excuses and blame doling doesn’t work.

4. A PR Harakiri – try doing it like …Never!

a. The AAP leadership has been committing a PR Harakiri – like …continuously. The party has been blaming all things external for all their losses, and even for their failure to deliver. From blaming the EVMs to casting aspersions on the Election Commission’s integrity, to targeting its own weakest links (poor innocent cleaners who are their own big vote banks, in the garbage fracas), AAP tried it all. But it really lost it when it turned on on its voters post the Rajouri Garden by polls and termed the citizens as thankless! You can’t call people thankless and then ask them to vote for you.

Lesson learnt – You don’t bite the hand that feeds you …never…ever! AAP forgot that it needs the same Janta to favour it again and again – just so the party can remain in existence.

5. Keep the issues in perspective

AAP became so involved and personal in its blame game with the BJP that the party forgot to focus on the real issues of governance. Instead of concentrating on the workings or shortcomings or non-deliveries of MCD incumbents, it wasted its breath in calling names to the other party, finding excuses for its own dismal performance and just about everything other than the core issues. The other party smartly just started talking about the failures and non-deliveries of AAP at a higher state-level governance.

Lesson Learnt – In an altercation, focus on the communication on issues in hand.

All brands face challenges in their life-cycle. During challenging times, criticizing the competitors and blaming the environment may garner the brand a 15 second of attention – nothing more. Always keep an eye on your commitments and deliverables promised. Else the failure on these counts becomes potent ammunition in the hands of your competitors. A fresh vision may be all the solution you need to tackle market and competitors. Also, adopting a right PR strategy is always an important key in troubled times. When under duress, create a positive environment, admit your shortcomings, keep your communication positive and look at new ways to solve the issues.

Is the brand ‘Modi’ dying? Not yet!

Newsrooms across Indian media are passionately debating on a common topic these days.

The intention of the arguments bandied around seems to be sitting in judgement on whether the sheen is wearing off the brand ‘Modi’. It is being vociferously argued and creatively illustrated that neither is the said brand living up to the image it had projected a year ago nor is it delivering the promises it had made before its launch.

Let’s understand the making of brand ‘Modi’ first.

A state-level brand ‘Modi’ became a national and an international one almost overnight because of an absence of a healthy competition and due to a simmering disappointment with the existing alternative. The brand was perceived as better than the best not because his resume very carefully scrutinized but simply because he was better than the rest.

But just because the brand out-shined everyone else does not mean that it has some inherent magical powers. Any brand/project/plan/ scheme to work and deliver successfully needs time and combined efforts of all stakeholders.

A mere 70 odd weeks cannot improve (let alone rebuild) the state of a nation in solitude given its size. Even the God of Indian cricket took over a year to reach his 100th century, all the while without losing the support of all his worshippers.

A spate of reportings on half-truths and doubts renders more harm to any brand’s reputation than downright malignancies. Such items give enough opportunity to add in numerous negative sound bytes from empty nay-sayers to the rising nay- crescendo. A nay crescendo carries within itself great potential to propagate negative communication very efficiently.

If we have created the brand, it is now essential to support Modi not in words but in deeds as well as in spirit. Only then the brand will have a lasting legacy in the country.

All products and brands have their unique cycle of crest and trough that is imperative to its success. Larger than life expectations without letting the brand go through its journey is not conducive for its life span.

The keepers of the brand ‘Modi’ also need to understand that their twin tasks of the brand’s image management and keeping its reputation intact are now more crucial and imperative than it ever was. Being a new brand, Brand ‘Modi’ does not even have past glorious roots to hang on to either. The brand may seriously suffer in the long term in case a crisis develops anytime. How the brand managers manage the brand from here on will lay the path for eventual and lasting success of the brand.