The Budget 2018: Trick or treat for PR professionals

On Monday, the day many a PR professional will have aggressively circled on their calendar will be upon us – Budget day. This year it falls on Monday 29 October, the first time that a Budget has been held on a Monday since 1962. The Budget is typically delivered on a Wednesday after Prime Minister’s Questions but with Wednesday falling on Halloween, the Chancellor chose Monday in a bid to avoid the easy ‘horror’ headlines and imagery – whether he’ll be saved from these however is far from a foregone conclusion.

The Budget is one of those political institutions that mobilises the news media, and therefore the PR industry, like few others – particularly in the professional services industries. With the looming prospect of regulatory change, professionals will rightly be angling to showcase their expertise and analyse the potential impact on clients and the industry.

The media attention the Budget habitually receives does provide a significant opportunity, but also a real challenge. Put simply, it is a busy marketplace for soundbites and expert opinion, and cutting through the noise requires a few select ingredients, including:

  • Preparation
  • Speed
  • Adding to the debate

This is why there are typically quite a few rituals associated with the Budget for PRs; briefing clients on emerging trends and getting them media-ready in the run-up to Budget day, building media-lists of key journalists covering the event and contacting them ahead of time and hurriedly eating a sandwich al desko before tuning in to watch the Budget live, laptop at the ready.

This year’s Budget has been billed by the government as the end of austerity and as setting the foundations for the post-Brexit economy. As usual, the media – nationals and business trades alike – have been offering predictions about what may be included. Some of the most hotly tipped measures include a u-turn on raising Income Tax thresholds, SDLT increases for foreign buyers, the announcement of a tax on digital companies and a new tax on single-use plastic. These may or may not come to pass and you can never discount a few rabbits being pulled out of the Chancellor’s hat.

Budget 2018 is also interesting in terms of the government’s own communications, too.

Not only has Philip Hammond chosen a time and date that is aimed squarely at smoothing the media response (as well as, incidentally, putting a strain on reporters to file their stories on time given Monday’s parliamentary sitting is later in the afternoon), but he also faces a key test of how to convey the new Conservative ‘brand’, launched by Theresa May at the party conference with her signal that austerity is over. At the same time, Mr Hammond will be conscious of giving both a clear message to party backbenchers (and the DUP) who will be watching carefully for any hint of measures which do not toe their red lines, as well as developing a narrative for the outside world – waiting avidly for an indication as to what post-Brexit Britain is going to offer.

Halloween or not, clearly the queue of those looking out for Budget treats, or tricks, will be long indeed and all eyes will be on the Chancellor come Monday afternoon.

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