EDITORIAL: Budget PR job was only following Tory tradition

A familiar phrase about a pot and a kettle springs to mind on hearing the Tories are in a lather over revelations that the Government hired an agency and a PR company to ’road-test’ its Budget plans. It’s certainly rich for a party once so adept at harnessing the power of advertising and marketing to bleat on about ’government by focus group and PR’.

A familiar phrase about a pot and a kettle springs to mind on

hearing the Tories are in a lather over revelations that the Government

hired an agency and a PR company to ’road-test’ its Budget plans. It’s

certainly rich for a party once so adept at harnessing the power of

advertising and marketing to bleat on about ’government by focus group

and PR’.



What rankles the opposition is that the Treasury used pounds 80,000 of

taxpayers’ money to commission Ogilvy & Mather and Fishburn Hedges to

discover how the public might react to key measures contained in the

Budget.



They claim this is fundamentally wrong. It isn’t. And to condemn it out

of hand is to misunderstand the contribution qualitative research can

make to effective and responsive government.



Of course, an over-reliance on focus groups is as dangerous for

politicians as it is for advertisers. Politics is about having firmly

held beliefs and values and no government should always be prepared to

cut its cloth just to match the public fashion.



But it’s one thing to keep tailoring policies to reflect the latest

research findings. It’s quite another for a government to become

detached and out of step with the views of those who elect it.

Qualitative research can help ministers keep their fingers on the

national pulse, provide continual feedback on what matters most to

people and enable messages to be clearly understood.



The skill is in knowing when not to let what the research is saying

prevent a political decision a government knows instinctively to be

right. A few years ago, Whitbread trusted its gut feelings when all the

research suggested its ’refresh the parts’ campaign for Heineken would

bomb. There will be times when Tony Blair will have to as well.



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