Where are the 'mad men' of politics going?

The focus now must be on overcoming the pandemic without it imploding our health services and the economy. For this, good communication can be a great asset.

Perhaps influenced by one of my favorite series, “Mad Men”, and by his description of everyday life in an advertising agency in New York in the 50s and 70s, I became interested in the book by author Sam Delaney, “Mad Men & Bad Men: What Happened When British Politics Met Advertising ”, which tells the story of how British politics made its first crossing with the world of advertising and communication agencies, especially after the election that led to Margaret Thatcher's victory.

The author of the book interviewed some of the key figures in the advertising universe who led the Tories' electoral campaign at the time and who describe Thatcher as a politician with great faith in the power to communicate his vision in an innovative way. Conservatives were committed to winning elections and making an impact through new, more aggressive, bold and direct communication.

The poster for the agency Saatchi & Saatchi, which worked with Thatcher that year, in which the slogan “Labor is not working” accompanied the image of a long line of people outside a job center, would have been decisive for the beginning of an aggressive communication battle between Conservatives and Labor in all future election campaigns.

Having been involved, as a candidate or party leader, in all Portuguese electoral campaigns since 2014, some stories in the book sounded very familiar to me. The left has been more resilient, delegating much of the communication decisions to the politicians themselves, which, personally, I consider a blunder. Delaney says that Thatcher rarely made his own decisions in this field and demanded that his collaborators not spare her from criticism in relation to her image or speech, being receptive to changes. It is not common to find politicians who recognize that the power of ideas or speeches is not enough.

This chronicle about the power of communication is also related to its importance in the management of the pandemic. We have seen our Government stumbling over its communication, by choosing to maintain the model of the daily DGS conferences, guided by a technical and confusing language by those responsible for Health and ministers. And we also have the paternalistic tone of the President of the Republic and the sometimes nervous, sometimes contradictory, sometimes clueless, tone of the Prime Minister. Time has not played in favor with the arrival of the second wave, but it is now or never that it is important to reformulate all communication and make it more effective, direct and, above all, professional.

No communication agency paid me to write this chronicle, but I recognize the importance of using greater creativity and efficiency at the present time. Prime time television ads teaching how to wear masks and what to do, deconstructing myths or false ideas. As well as helping ministers to create more empathic speeches (Angela Merkel is a good example). We are all looking forward to ending this nightmare, but without good communication, the authorities seem aimless and unfocused. And the focus now can only be one: overcoming the pandemic without it imploding our health services and the economy. For this, good communication can be a great asset.

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