‘Since the declaration of the 2014 Indian election results, discussions have been ongoing about BJP winning with the kind of numbers that it did. Discussions are also focused on the platforms using which the election was won. During the relatively simpler election times, connecting with ‘Bharat’ or the ‘real India’ meant conducting road shows and rallies across the country. Cut to 2014 and the prime time shows, editorials, online portals and any other platform capable of hosting a discussion have ‘social media’, ‘public relations’, ‘marketing’, ‘advertising blitzkrieg’ being thrown around as the reasons for the BJP win. Public relations, arguably, more than the rest.
So was this the year when public relations truly delivered on its potential?
Srinivasan K Swamy, CMD, RK Swamy BBDO, opines that preferring PR over other forms of marketing communication works. He says, “PR is always more important than advertising in all situations because media reports are seen as more credible than paid-for advertising. This election has also shown that the use of social media was critical. These set the public mood and print and TV media had no choice but to amplify the mood of the nation.”
Rajiv Desai, chairman and CEO, Comma Consulting, says it’s more than a cut and dry ‘PR versus advertising’ debate. He says, “Particularly in this election PR seems to have superseded advertising. But whether it was PR or propaganda is difficult to say. PR is more effective than advertising rather than PR being more important than advertising.”
Be it paid for media or earned media, the ultimate goal of all these remains to create a favourable image and perception in the minds of the public, which would then translate into votes. This was done on a national scale. Obviously, one party did it better than the rest.
Rahul Sharma, president, Rediffusion Communications believes that both PR and advertising had their roles to play in creating perception. He notes, “An advertising blitz helps putting across the right messages at the right time to the right audience whereas PR helps voters make up their minds through media coverage. Creating platform-agnostic simple and direct messages that highlight the core values, achievements, usefulness and plans helps change perception over a period of time.”
Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc., sees PR and advertising as just two factors out of many that drive a perception change. He says, “Election communication is a 360-degree process. If advertising is 60 of those degrees, PR is yet another 60. This means that there is more to election communication than PR and advertising put together as well. Those who imagine that advertising and PR helps win elections for parties and personas on their own, live in a bubble of their making.”
KV Sridhar, CCO, SapientNitro, maintains that factors other than PR and advertising lead up to a certain perception in the voters’ minds. He explains, “One of the biggest changes in this election has been the change in outlook towards politics in India. From Anna Hazare’s movement onwards to Kejriwal forming a party to the urban youth’s participation in the electoral process coupled with the active participation of parties on Twitter and Facebook has added up to creating an image in the minds of the public.”
There is a unanimous opinion with regards to which party had the better PR strategy: the BJP. Sridhar believes that AAP had a good run in the beginning but were unable to sustain it. Bijoor agrees but adds, “The ‘Chai-pe-charcha’ campaign was more PR and less in terms of actual impact on the ground in terms of activation.”
Srinivasan K Swamy, CMD, RK Swamy BBDO
“BJP controlled every media vehicle well. They handled their ‘owned media’ like website and social media well. They orchestrated ‘earned media’ (PR) to their advantage. They used ‘paid media’ (advertising campaigns) judiciously. No wonder they won handsomely. ”
KV Sridhar, CCO, SapientNitro
“Somewhere along the road political parties have learned how effective and important it is to generate positive PR. All of this has been compounded this year. The PR is related to positive and negative news out of which we’ve had a lot of positive news this time around. Even the print and mass media were planned much better this time. So this was a huge lesson for most of the political parties to mount a good campaign.”
Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc
“In terms of sheer PR, the BJP did very well. The ability to latch onto market properties and communication possibilites as they emerged during the 66 days of campaign across nine phases of polling was best used by the BJP. What started with PR activation exercises across institutions such as Fergusson College in Pune, moved into the hinterland of ‘real India’ pretty fast and quick. In every area, the communication focus was local, which was seamlessly dovetailed into the party’s national messaging.”
Rahul Sharma, president, Rediffusion Communications
“Building perception, changing perception takes time – in some cases years, especially if a candidate has poor brand value. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had the obvious advantage of getting off the blocks early thanks to a cohesive, though an extremely nasty and disruptive, social media strategy. It was quick to realise that effective use of the Internet could help not only build but also substantially shift public opinion in favour of its prime ministerial candidate.”
Rajiv Desai, chairman and CEO, Comma Consulting
“Typically during elections, it’s not just PR, it’s not just advertising. There’s campaigning too with people going door-to-door asking for votes, giving speeches, workers asking people to register, bringing people into the polling booths, remaining at the booths and making sure that everything is functioning in a clean and fair fashion. That’s what a campaign is all about. The 2014 elections broke all the moulds.”