Take telly over t’Internet everyday

Party funding will be poured into campaigns for #GE2015 but it’s on-screen time which makes a real difference

Once again we are supposed to be in the midst of the first real Internet election. In a bid to keep the turnout respectable and secure enough votes to make a difference, all of the parties are using their own social channels, those of their supporters and plenty of paid to cement their positions. All this carefully targeted effort, benefiting from the big data the parties now have access to, will help to shape the vote in many but not all constituencies.

For many potential voters, while the Internet and social media are part of the fabric of their lives, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are willing to engage on a political level online. In fact, our recent study conducted with Research Now showed that only 22% of respondents thought that social media would grab their attention during the campaign. Instead it was many traditional communication routes including newspapers and radio which are considered most influential and it was television that came out top, with 57% saying it was most likely to grab their attention.

Whilst the leader debates will have been a driver here, television news potentially plays a much bigger role. Whilst local media, particularly print remains in decline, regional television is still holding on to some viewers. An OFCOM study showed that over three-quarters (77%) of all adults say television is their most used source of local news. It is also highly rated, considered by four in ten (40%) to be the most important type of local media.

Potential MPs all know that regional telly is a simple and, some might say, easy route direct into the homes of the very people they are so desperate to influence. Strict impartiality rules mean some of the bias of print reporting disappears but most importantly every party gets a chance to try and deliver a soundbite almost regardless of their prior electoral success.

Every candidate will be trying to get their local BBC or ITV reporter to attend every event they lay on, no matter how low down the pecking order the visiting minister is. Some will be amongst the chosen few fortunate enough to have their leader swing through as a gaggle of sweaty hacks pile out of the battle bus in a desperate bid to gather some fresh air. The local reporters, who know their areas because they live there, will be on hand to ask not the question of the day but what matters to local people.

Sometimes these local encounters don’t go as planned but the vast majority of the time the leaders can visit two or three of different regional broadcasters every day clocking up serious air miles and air time. These reporters are ever present on the campaign trail asking the tough questions many candidates don’t want to answer, but often it is the most unassuming interviewers who really throw their targets.

Ben Burton is Weber Shandwick’s Head of Corporate and a former ITV Meridian Political Producer and Correspondent.