Arif Durrani, head of media, Campaign / editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani, head of media, Campaign / editor of Media Week
A view from Arif Durrani

Media's role is bigger than ever in the 2015 election

The kids might be excited to go back to school this week, but what's happening outside the gates? We are entering a period of profound uncertainty as one of the most closely fought elections in living memory looms large.

We enter the final three weeks to polling day with fair winds behind us. The chancellor, George Osborne, has made sure we know that Britain is in a far stronger position than it was in the last election. The economy is growing by more than 2 per cent a year, with more people in work than ever, and the average household is said to be a whole £900 per year better off than in 2010.

Whether that really equates to, as Osborne attests, Britain "walking tall again" is debatable, but it’s certainly a welcome change from the gloom of austerity speak.

At an industry level, the IPA Bellwether Report this week shows the tenth consecutive quarterly rise in marketing budgets. The rate of growth for the first three months of 2015 is better than many had expected, providing hope that marketers will continue to spend. Indeed, the report suggests companies plan to boost their marketing budgets in the forthcoming accounting period to the greatest degree in eight years.

'Many fear businesses will scale back if a hung parliament, followed by a referendum on Europe, materialises'

However, many seasoned hands still fear businesses will start to scale back if a hung parliament, possibly followed by a referendum on Europe, materialises. Whether it’s the Tories or Labour that end up with the keys to 10 Downing Street, the likelihood of policy changes is an ongoing concern.

"Having spent most of the last eight weeks worrying about the economy and financial matters, chief financial officers are now focused on political risk," Deloitte’s chief economist, Ian Stewart, notes. He adds that the willingness of companies to take financial risks is falling despite the positive growth forecasts.

In such a precarious environment, the need for informed opinion and debate must surely increase. So we had more than seven million people tuning in to the recent leaders’ debate on ITV – hard to believe this is only the second election with such broadcasts.

Historically, it has been the press that has helped frame elections: far less constrained than TV and with the space to deliberate. Coverage has once again been comprehensive and robust - read Chris Blackhurst's take here. Yet anecdotal talks with publishers suggest there has been no discernible print circulation lifts to date.

Today’s mix of traditional and social media means we are spoilt for choice when it comes to making sense of this year’s election – whether you’re among the 10,000 who watched BuzzFeed’s interview with the prime minister or (more likely) the millions tuning in to TV and radio broadcasts or among the 1.2 million who follow the main parties on Facebook. The uncertain 2015 contest is on course to be the most media-saturated election ever.