A business trip to New York last week was a stark reminder of the comparatively anaemic nature of strategic communications in Britain at the moment.
Not only are American PR agencies more bullish than their British counterparts, but US politicians enjoy a more vibrant engagement with their electorate. Talking to the bosses of the biggest US (indeed global) PR agencies – such as Edelman, Weber Shandwick and Ketchum – it quickly becomes apparent that corporate comms budgets have recovered better across the Atlantic. The PR consultants have also embraced digital and social comms earlier, effectively stealing budgets away from the ad agencies on Madison Avenue.
One suspects this is driven by a media sector less reliant on print – one sees more iPads than newspapers on the New York subway – and the buzz of the presidential election is providing a welcome shot in the arm. Many New York PR agencies are run by staunch Democrats, including some former party activists. All are fascinated by the intense comms battle being fought between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.Obama is still basking in the warmth of the Democratic National Convention, during which he, his wife and Bill Clinton made successful live speeches on primetime TV. But Obama also has the edge in social media. His team tweets 25 to 30 times each day, compared with Romney's one or two. Obama continues to be advised by David Axelrod, the former journalist who previously ran successful Democrat election campaigns.
But Romney holds some advantages. His top media advisers, including Ron Kaufman, a former aide to Ronald Reagan, believe that their candidate looks and sounds more like a US President. They are sensibly exploiting every technique to focus the debate on the economy and debt.
Nevertheless, Ketchum's European boss, David Gallagher – an American and a Democrat – believes Obama's more offensive campaign will ultimately triumph. "Obama's team is in complete control of the news cycle and ahead on the issues," he says, although he warns there may still be an "October surprise" – an 11th hour media revelation that will tilt the election one way or the other.
Danny Rogers is editor of PR Week