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Political Marketing: The State of the Discipline

The next plenary speaker at CMPM2014 is Jennifer Lees-Marshment, who reflects on the development of political marketing and management. This field focusses on how political actors and their staff use management tools and concepts to achieve their goals. This is not just about seeking votes, but also about driving certain issues and agendas, developing a political profile and image, and it is about governing as well as campaigning.

The scholarship of political marketing no longer just researches what voters want, but also explores how they might be involved in political processes, how long-term relationships can be built, and how internal marketing to the party faithful should be conducted. There are also questions about long-term, mutual, interactive communication relationships, and an expansion of these questions from campaigning to policy delivery and leadership in government.

One big area in this is now political branding, and political PR is also set to grow substantially. Emerging areas include internal marketing, empowering volunteers, and the translation of trends from key events (such as US elections) to other contexts at national and state levels.

In political marketing practice, there is a big shift towards interactive and relational communication; a growing focus on communicating the delivery of political promises (Jennifer notes that this is one of the aspects which Kevin Rudd did very poorly), on the use of big data, and on the translation of research results and marketing strategies to regional and local levels.

There are now Graduate Schools of Political Management at George Washington University in the US and Carleton University in Canada, and similar programmes and centres are being set up elsewhere; the scholarly community and PhD cohort in this field is growing strongly. This also manifests in the growth in publications in the field. Political marketing as a field is being gradually accepted in both the marketing and political science disciplines.

The story for political management is less positive: the field remains less developed and intellectually poorer. And overall, some scholars continue to reject these fields, partly also because of the very practice-oriented nature of the field. Some leaders in the field are practitioners, too, who are not necessarily engaged strongly in research.

Political management needs to be further developed to take in a whole range of themes and sub-fields, then. Market intelligence, organisation, strategy, communications, and delivery management all need to be incorporated into this. The field needs to be better organised, ideally with a Global Political Management association, conference, and journal as well as key textbooks to support undergraduate teaching. Courses from professional short courses to PhD study also need to be developed.

A field of this form is likely to have a strong future, because it is applied, relevant, and likely to lead to strong employment outcomes. It also demonstrates the value of politics degrees in general. But ironically, this requires better management for the field of Political Marketing and Management.