Five Conservative Party leadership hopefuls are jostling to make into the final two in the race to be the next prime minister, having made their appeal to MPs for support.
Rishi Sunak launched his campaign with a video about his upbringing, Penny Mordaunt raised eyebrows with some bombastic flag-waving, and Liz Truss played it safe by setting out her stall as the “trust” candidate.
Mark Borkowski, one of Britain’s top PR experts, said some of the remaining contenders had launched impressively “slick” campaigns – but still had a long way to go in connecting with the country the way Boris Johnson once did.
The communications professional ranked the candidates’ branding efforts, giving The Independent his verdict on how their presentational style might fare with party members and the wider public.
1. Rishi Sunak
Borkowski said he was impressed by the video which launched Sunak’s campaign, focusing on his grandmother’s Indian roots and his family’s move to Britain in the Sixties. “It was very slick, very well-made, very effective in communicating in his personal story to the public,” he said.
“Ready for Rishi is a decent slogan, the presentation is fresh, and his team will be very well-prepared to push out more on social media,” the expert said. “People like chancellors who give them money. He will be reminding people how he got them through the Covid crisis.”
He added: “Sunak is one of the best communicators since Tony Blair in terms of obfuscating difficult questions. But I just wonder how quickly people will forget and forgive Boris Johnson and begin to miss him.”
2. Penny Mordaunt
Borkowski said Mordaunt has “a significant PR team behind her”, adding: “Like Rishi’s team, they’ve obviously turned to people outside of politics for help on presentation.”
He added: “The PM4PM phrase might seem a bit gauche – but it fits with how she understands the media, social media, and how to use digestible soundbites.”
Despite being mocked for her patriotic launch clip, the PR expert said it could be effective. “Ships in Portsmouth, military images, the flag – playing to the heritage stereotypes tunes people into the idea she can bring back the Thatcher era,” Borkowski said.
3. Liz Truss
Borkowski said: “Liz Truss is another one who is trying to channel Margaret Thatcher, in her case the idea of a strong, dependable leader.
“It is a little bit safe, a little bit simple. She has had a record of never missing a photo opportunity and chance to promote herself. So I’m a bit surprised she has got a bit lost. I don’t think her campaign has gone down as well as her team would have expected.”
4. Tom Tugendhat
Borkowski praised the moderate outsider’s performance during the first week of the race. But he suggested the branding might be “a tad overly-contrived” for someone who should be playing the “authenticity and humility card”.
“It is a very American presentation,” he said. “It is slick. The phrase ‘clean start’ certainly gets across the fact he wants us to move on from Boris Johnson. He’s fresh, and the branding reflects that. But it’s trying too hard, and in marketing terms, people tend to see through that.”
5. Kemi Badenoch
Borkowski also praised the anti-woke outsider’s efforts to drum up support on the right, but said the presentation – including the slogan Kemi for prime minister – “has not been particularly slick”.
He added: “You can see there’s not a big professional PR team there helping her. I think she has projected herself well. She’s clearly been appealing to MPs in the party, to get more MPs behind her, but it’s hard to see how she would project herself to the country on the basis of the campaign.”
He added that Suella Braverman, knocked out of the race on Thursday after launching her “Suella 4 Leader” campaign at the weekend, struggled to appeal beyond the party’s right-wing Brexiteers.
“Like Badenoch, Braverman proved to be a very authentic commentator, even if she didn’t have PR professionals behind her,” said Borkowski. “She didn’t try to be something she’s not. But she wasn’t able to appeal to the wider public.”