Fredrick Johnston

About Fredrick Johnston

Fred is a freelance writer from Central Australia, whose interests include politics, diplomacy and Japanese mascots. Say hello to him on Twitter - @FreddyKuma

Politics in 2016: The great PR push to the #exit

Approx Reading Time-11The change in political thought brought on by Brexit and Trump has formalised the world of PR in the democratic process. So what’s #Nexit?


It’s nearly time to celebrate the six month anniversary for one of the most indelible moments of 2016. The moniker of this event received the accolade of Collins Word of the Year, and has become the suffix of every political move since: the #exit.

There’s no need to review the various effects of the Brexit decision. Rather, it’s a chance to take a look at reasons why it was the catalyst for other secession movements that succeeded it, such as Calexit and Itexit. Australia even had its own Quexit threat earlier in the year, and may face it again with Malcolm Turnbull reiterating his desire to separate us from the Empire.

These influential trends can be seen in the more monumental moments of the year – i.e., Brexit or Trump’s presidential victory. Political events, and the response to them, have changed. The fall in advertising has coincided with the rise in efficacy of PR.

Rather than shelving out for advertising messages, the aim of PR is to convince reporters or editors to write a positive story about your client, brand or issue – it usually appears in the editorial section of said media. This ensures your story is more credibility because it’s independently verified. That thinking has dripped over into the world of politics, solidified as gospel by the angelic chords of tangible results.

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A grand example of this was Nigel Farage and Sir Bob Geldof’s squaring off on the Thames, in a fishing boat flotilla-sized PR dream – the very nature of the events can be classed as a stunt. This isn’t the conventional gesture of a party candidate or celebrity sharing their opinion on the issue; this is pure click bait, and the current shift to attention grabbing in Western world politics.

Well-known publicist and author of the book Guerrilla P.R., Michael Levine, is quoted as saying: “Depending on how you measure and monitor, an article it is between 10 times and 100 times more valuable than an advertisement.” The strategy of guerrilla PR is to fuse offline events and social media with a strategy to generate news rather than to simply be the subject of the story.

However, it’s not just PR groups and social media titans contributing to changing the approach towards these events. Supporters on all sides of the ideological spectrum have access to the added tools that the aforementioned groups can utilise. This is an age where the range and scope of the support of these followers, specifically “crowd-enabled collective action”, has grown exponentially, resulting in the unexpected outcomes experienced this year.

These influential trends can be seen in the more monumental moments of the year. Political events, and the response to them, have changed. The fall in advertising has coincided with the rise in efficacy of PR.

Bear in mind, the strategy of experts in PR and technology wouldn’t have been as effective if there weren’t a growing wave of discontent that was present during the vote. It reflected the opinion of Britain and of the greater Western society, showing they were happy to comply with the widespread change being touted.

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone outlined the impetus for the Brexit decision: “working class people have had such a bad time for decades now. Their wages have not gone up, almost all the wealth being created goes to a small elite and house prices (increasing) have meant their kids can’t afford to buy a home…for people all over the Western world, actually.” Which sounds like a fantastic article. An idea to cling to. Something to run with.

It is in this environment where a secession movement like Calexit can also flourish. The distant cousins from the West Coast are the sixth biggest contributors to economic activity in the world ($2.1 trillion to be exact), sandwiched between Britain and France. Another consideration is that the home of Silicon Valley and Hollywood also receive less in government services than in tax they pay. It was judged in an article titled “Which states are Givers and Which are Takers?” that Californians receive just under a dollar of services for every dollar received in tax revenue. It’s little wonder many in the state want to operate as their own entity, with the California governor extraordinarily stating he would build a wall around the state, if necessary.

What this means is that with the political landscape in an obvious transition, the suspicion that enabled the change will continue to loom into the future. The modern day secession movements, fuelled by the multitude of methods for connecting supporters with a cause, will need a narrative to drive them, and images to cling to. If nothing else, 2016 has solidified a long-term aphorism into truth.

As Winston Churchill once said: “Politics is not a game, it is an earnest business” – one you’d now assume has a burgeoning PR department.


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