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Political Consultancy: A European Perspective

What are political campaigns missing these days? How can political consultants help campaigns to reconnect with voters and be authentic? How will elections change in the next five years?

We spoke to Charalampos-Babis Karpouchtsis recently, a political consultant based in Berlin to gain a professional’s insight into these questions. With most of the media focused on the US presidential race, we thought it might be refreshing to look at how the political landscape is in Europe at present.

Karpouchtsis is a Greek born consultant who runs Polisis, a consultancy firm which focuses on politics in Europe and more specifically relations between Germany and Greece. Having first studied political science at the Otto Suhr Institute of the Free University of Berlin, Karpouchtsis then went on to complete an MA in European politics at the University of Bath in the UK.

Polisis is distinct from other consultancy firms in that they focus particularly on Greco-German political relations. When the Greek crisis began, Karpouchtsis was in a unique position to help politicians deal with the growing tensions brought up by the European sovereign-debt crisis. We spoke to him more generally though on the state of political consultancy in Europe and on his approach to working in a fast-changing environment.

What is the most overlooked issue in political campaigns these days?

When it comes to communication strategies all tools are being used: from regular TV-spots, web-banners, to guerrilla-marketing and content marketing of all forms. However, there is one thing that is difficult to manage, even with the finest use of big data analysis: The loss of party members and the liquidity of political and party-related identities of voters.

This is evident on two points. First, parties all over the EU lose members, and second, policy issues have become extremely complicated to be represented by one political stream. This is a challenge that consultants and scientists try to tackle with different techniques and tools. A campaign must reach a certain target group, which nowadays is spread between different age groups and different media users. The challenge is not only to reach the target groups, but also to create the bond needed for a campaign to succeed. In this case the most overlooked issue is the branding of the campaign that can create the bond necessary for a successful campaign.

What are the most necessary attributes you need to become a successful consultant in today's game?

This is a good question and I believe it is question of character. Of course people tend to recite Machiavelli, saying things like “the goal justifies the means” or use Sun Tzu’s words “choose your fights” etc. Different consultants have different attributes. There is no general recipe for a successful consultant. In my opinion, necessary attributes are honesty towards the client as well as open and constructive criticism. You should not bend your views to fit the client, especially if you want your consulting activity to lead to success.

Responsibility, honesty and constructive criticism are main attributes of a successful consultant of all kinds. Nonetheless, you need to remain diplomatic and to consult in order to reach a certain goal. Keep the goal in your mind and communicate it as often as you can with your client. This is why you are there. These are main attributes, but this is only my personal view.

How do you see elections changing in the next 5 years?

The question is open and general and it is probably not a coincidence. Elections will change regarding topics: Refugees, EU, War, Terror, Economic Crisis, TTIP, CETA, Ecology etc. It will all be summed up under the question whether or not we need “more or less EU”. There will be a turn towards nationalism in Europe, especially regarding the issue of refugees and the topic of war and terror. We can expect right wing (populist and extremist) parties in Europe to become more offensive in their tactics, their rhetoric and their presence in news, neighborhoods and probably parliaments. This will be encountered by democratic forces in the EU that do not support a turn towards nationalism and want to continue with the process of European Integration.

The question remains whether the EU itself will understand the necessity to become more open and democratic.

What does that mean exactly?

Elections will become more important than they were over the last 20 years and we will observe a rise in election-participation. Campaigns will be led with passion and political discussions will remind us of the times before 1995. However, a huge part of these activities will be moved from the TV and newspapers to social media and websites. One thing will remain vital: personal contact to politicians, political actors and campaigners. We do not have a way to replace personal commitment and affiliation yet and this is not a bad thing. Strange and tough times are coming towards politicians, political consultants and the greater public. The years to follow will be interesting regarding the politics we make but also the tools we use to make things happen.

Karpouchtsis provides an interesting insight into the fluidity of voter allegiance in the current climate. Striving for authenticity and a clear message remains one of the greatest challenges for political consultants as well as political representatives. Managing the fast-changing landscape of political technologies while retaining a clear sense of identity for politics will continue to be a challenge into the future.

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