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Political communications is coming of age. Do you have the right CASTE?

24th November 2014


A new style of politics is emerging in the country - a style never seen before which is centered on getting citizens involved. While a lot of noise is being made around a new campaign every 5-6 weeks, if these translate into action and there are results for all to see the style is here to stay. The style is about big bang announcements followed by an event that then peters down or takes off really well. We have seen campaigns such as Digital India, Make in India, Clean India in the past three months and they have created a lot of chatter.

Well, one man, Narendra Modi, has driven this single handedly with a bunch of cleverly chosen executioners.  But it remains to be seen how long the momentum lasts in the absence of a well-trained set of political communicators that India needs to bring in a communicative approach to politics and more transparency to governance. India needs younger professionals to come forward and take up a career in political communications. This is going to be a big deal in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The early bird catches the worm.

So what are the five qualities one needs to possess to be able to enter the world of political communications? With my limited experience working as a grassroots advocacy volunteer in the Barack Obama re-election campaign in Chicago in 2012, and then being an observer on four campaigns in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and in the recent past working on a successful and tough campaign in the recently concluded Maharashtra assembly elections, I can throw some light.

Public Relations is one of those few fields which is both an art and a science. Political Public Relations is an art, a science and a sport. This is the CASTE system one needs to imbibe and for starters is what it takes. The list can go on but let’s start with the basics:

Communications – One needs to be a good writer, good at verbal communications and above all a good listener. Understanding technology is a big plus so one knows how websites are built. Tweets and posts need to be ready with multiple options. Knowing what makes news and what journalists look for is an art to be mastered. Political Public Relations is about managing 3 Es well – Egos, Expectations and Events. These are plenty in the political world.

Astuteness – This is about the ability to make good judgments in order to advise confidently. It is an amalgamation of in-born intelligence and acquired wisdom that comes with time. Enough said on this one.

Street-smart – This is different from being astute. Astuteness is engrained based on exposure and education. Street-smart comes from experience. It is about having an ear to the ground and an eye for detail without wavering when the storms are strongest. Being guided by data is the icing on the cake. Love for research is mandatory. Times are changing and the needle is moving from who you know to what you know. So reading voraciously helps. Curiosity is king.

Toughness - One needs to be tough, not just on the exterior but on the interior as well. Failure is an orphan and success has many fathers. There will be real and fake masters who will emerge on the way during every campaign trying to guide and misguide. One needs to learn early on how to deal with them and move on with agility. Long hours and odd hours are a given.

Enthusiasm – Political communications can drain you quickly and you are only as good as your client perceives you to be. Self-motivation is the only way to be enthusiastic about the campaign at hand. There will be detractors who will try to pull you down as a tactic to get more out of you. But the only way is to follow a plan and execute it joyfully. 

Amith Prabhu is a public reputation management professional who runs Zero Hour Strategies- India’s first communications advisory firm exclusively for Chief Ministers and Members of Parliament. He can be reached on twitter at @amithpr


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