Broadcasting to a narrow audience
Peter Jay, the former diplomat, journalist and factotum to Robert Maxwell, was once supposed to have told a sub-editor at The Times, where he was then economics editor, who complained that his prose was hard to follow, that “I only wrote this piece for three people – the editor of The Times, the Governor of the Bank of England, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.”
I am reminded of this when being bombarded with more and more missives from the two candidates for the Conservative Party leadership. While it is critical to everyone whether Rishi Sunak or (almost certainly) Liz Truss wins, as he or she will become Prime Minister, I can’t be alone in feeling disenfranchised and disinterested in the seemingly endless debates, the mud-slinging, the worryingly inept videos (of which the Sunak camp is rather guilty) and the ratcheting up of policy announcements, all of which are aimed at a tiny audience.
Though exact figures are hard to come by, there are estimated to be less than 200,000 members of the Tory party. An excellent analysis in the Financial Times found that members were more likely to be male, white British, middle class and living on southern England (though not London) than the general population. They’re also older – so more likely to be drawing pensions.
So you can see why Liz Truss’ policies of tax cuts and restoration of the triple lock might appeal to this electorate, though interestingly pollsters suggest these don’t go down well with the wider public.
This is the problem of trying to broadcast to a narrow audience. For example, trying to extoll the virtues of high leverage to a private equity investing audience will not appeal to a general population worried about their utilities being provided by firms with very heavy borrowings.
The question is how do you get to the audience you want. The answer with our private equity friends is to only target the trade media that serve that market. The problem with that is you may miss a lot of people you want to get to – for example pension fund trustees who decide if money is going to be allocated to private equity may not read those specialist titles. So you would need to get them through “broadcasting” – not going on the TV but going to broader media, such as the FT or The Times.
Hyper targeted campaigning – essentially buying adverts on social media aimed at specific audiences – was controversially used by the firm Cambridge Analytica during the Brexit campaign. The outcry about this make this tactic impossible to use – even in areas where it isn’t now banned.
I’m sure somewhere technical wizzes are trying to find another way of getting to tiny, influential audiences. In the meantime the politicians will revert to their usual strategies of broadcasting (in both senses of the world) promises now that they will renege on once they’re in power.