Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Steep Learning Curve or what

It is often claimed that political parties are market oriented, listen to the public, and ensure policies are popular and can be justified. The whole 10p tax band fiasco seems to prove otherwise. Gordon Brown's defence is that as Prime Minister he is "listening and learning", why was this not the case when Chancellor one wonders? But without getting into the political debate, in terms of communication this is a huge gaffe for Brown, while his credibility is eroding on a daily basis he just seems to make it worse. The only viable response would be to justify the policy, his inability to do that makes him appear to be floundering while all opponents score points off of him adding to their own political capital. While admitting you are wrong can be good; when the issue is this important, and took considerable planning to reach, it does not strike of competence. The listening rhetoric is hard believe, and saying you are learning really shows the huge gap between public expectations of a prime minister and his own ability or communication skills - big question for me is whether he is good at his job but not within the current media environment or is he actually a good accountant who needed to be in the shadow of and monitored by someone with the skills of a leader?

Is the BBC backing Cameron?

In announcing the final day of campaigning before the London mayoral, Assemblies and 159 council are elected, the BBC have chosen an interesting way to visualise the contest. The composite picture of the three main party leaders does little in the way of favours to anyone but Cameron. Given Brown now has employed former BBC producer Nicola Burdett as a sort of style guru managing media picture selection, is this the BBC rebelling or a bit of bias towards David Cameron and the Conservatives?

Just to check perceptions I asked an unwitting young person what they thought of the party leaders based on these pcitures. Brown was described as 'old, ugly, squeezing and invisible err 'breast' (ok unwitting young person was male), but less amusing for Gordon, said male yout also thought he looked 'uncaring and uncompassionate... I wouldn't vote for him'. Clegg was 'snobby', 'needs a shave' and 'remote' though he also asked who he was and if he was a Conservative. Cameron seemed like 'a nice guy', 'I'd vote for him'. Why, well the photos offer perceptions, Cameron's photo shows him lookign straight at the camera, not down at it, so he is 'on the level' not in a position of authority, he is smiling unlike the other two, he looks normal. Is this accident or conspiracy, if I was the PR team of Clegg or Brown I would complain!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The attack strategy

Not sure if Brian Paddick's is a serious challenge or a case of testing the water for strategy pointers and seeing if the polls move; the latest, last ditch, attack is a couple of 'viral ads' on Youtube designed to "highlight a few of the many reasons why both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson would be the wrong choice to be the Mayor of London". The first: "The Ken and Friends World Tour" invites you to follow an exotic trip with Ken Livingstone so that you can party with Fidal (sic yes I thought it was Fidel too) Castro in Cuba and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela"

The second entitled "Missing Idiot," shows "an Oxfordshire resident calls Private Investigator Shirley Holmes to report that their village is missing its local idiot. Can you guess who the missing idiot is?"

Both are a little bit painful to watch, purely attacking, cheaply made and well for me I'm not sure they are credible. They make a point and perhaps fit with much user-generated content on Youtube but as a political ad I wonder about their credibility or if they are fit for purpose. Neither make untrue claims or allegations, so may well reinforce negative perceptions of both but if they become popular in the next couple of days (only 1,000 views so far), given Paddick is so far behind, I can see them only leading to non-voting rather than supporting Paddick due to the size of swing required for him to have any chance of winning. Good plan, bad plan... not sure at all about these!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Will Youtube have an impact?

Looking at the viewing numbers for John McCain's campaign videos on Youtube I was impressed, one got almost 850,000 views. Now we do not know where those viewers are in the world, never mind if they are likely to vote or in the key swing states; it is a significant number though. But then you consider the size of the US voting population, estimated to be somewhere close to 205 million, of which 50-60% (so at least 100 million) should be expected to turn out. So suddenly less than one million (0.8% of the population) suddenly seems a drop in the ocean. Clinton nor Obama are fairing any better, even scanning across the Will-i-am Yes We Can Barack Obama promotion, that has had around 15 million views; could be 15% of the electorate but I am one of those viewers and not a potential voter so perhaps only 10%, 10 million, may be in the US. Will this increase as the election gets closer, will Youtube and the Internet come of age as a tool of political communication, and can this be measured in views, recall, or what - any ideas?

Getting noticed, but maybe not in a good way

Barbara Clark is a nurse leading a campaign against fraud in high office involving Adventists across California, predominantly her campaign is web-based and largely consisting of videos of her speaking stridently about a range of conspiracies. She has, however, created an alternative identity and a series of images that appear to attract those interested in politics to her own videos and her website.
To ensure some attention she has a number of videos posted on Youtube with titles that make the visitor beleive they are camapign ads for Clinton and Obama, both of which gain significant attention in their own right. To aid hits the image that appears (as the pic above shows) is a provocatively dressed woman; like many I thought someone somewhere had plummed new depths in grabing viewers for political ads, not the case. Her Youtube profile (right) also shows someone who is not Barbara Clark, who is pictured on her own website, and perhaps is designed to appeal to the male surfer. I find this quite bizarre, it has to be a stunt to try to get clicks, but is it really appropriate to combine a video talkign about 'Spitzer & Dupree ignore FBI subpoenas while IRS calls AIG' advertised with the picture of a topless busty brunette (possibly her from the profile picture) holding her breasts? She does get views, over 400 for the one with Clinton in the link title; does it devalue her cause is a bigger question. Surely this has to undermine whatever credibility her and her cause has or am I missing the point?

Cheap shot or reinforcing a perception?

When I saw the link to this Youtube video being sent around, packaged as a Boris gaffe, I expected it to be one of the Have I Got News For You moments that Boris Johnson specialises in; and by that i do not mean moments from the programme but the times when he looks like he is being tripped up by a comedian of Paul Merton's quick wit even when he is not. But then I watched it (well listened).

It is a radio debate between Johnson and Liberal Democrat candidate Brian Paddick, Johnson suggests Paddick was soft on drugs, as opposed to having a softly softly approach, Johnson perhaps is caught out by the semantic difference here. Paddick did suggest not arresting and charging cannabis users, not decriminalising them, and so seems out of his depth. But the clip seems really to offer a negative perception of both participants. Paddick interrupts Johnson, Johnson garbles the answer, could this make an audience feel more sorry for Johnson? Moreover, while it highlights Boris's inefficiency in interviews, is this news and so could it be read as just a cheap shot? Or, alternatively, does it reinforce a public predisposition towards Boris? Furthermore who is the main benefactor, as Paddick seems unable to change his standing, so far anyway, do these attacks, and the negative tone, benefit Ken Livingstone. All questions of strategy: and the wonderful unpredictability of political communication

Talking to the online audience

TV commercial audiences need simple messages, probably are less likely, on the whole, to be highly involved in politics, or expecting to receive a political message. In contrast visitors to a candidate's Youtube site are seeking information, are involved and interested in the election and may be seeking reasons to cast their vote. The former are more likely to be reached by simple, high impact negative political advertisements, the latter are turned off by negativity and want a positive message. It seems the Democrat contenders have figured this out and provide a very different experience for their Youtube audience. Their latest television commercials are quite dark, Obama's is particularly negative, Clinton's highlights the need for experience in a dangerous world using images of Osama bin Laden and Pearl Harbour to make her point. But on Youtube there are personal endorsements, scenes from rallies and the candidate promoting themselves and the America they would deliver.

Clinton's 'Thank You' ad on Youtube has received almost 75,000 views and there are 117 comments most of which are positive. Her message is one of mobilisation and it seems to have that effect.

Obama Everywhere is a soundtrack for Obama travelling the country and being a real person, on the whole. So far it has only had just short of 20,000 views and 35 comments, most on the song. Interestingly Obama has a higher rating (4 stars), Hillary has three. Is this indicative of anything? She has reached a bigger audience, so far, but she also has lower support for this video; interesting contrast perhaps. More importantly will the parallel campaigns effect one another? Will one dilute the power of the other?

Hope, Change and Electioneering

Paraguay is a very young democracy, since 1992 in fact. As many young democracies, politics has been fairly unstable with coalitions forming and collapsing bringing governments down with them. While dominated by a political elites, and effectively one party for much of the last 16 years, it has been commented that personal power were far more important for those standing for office than serving the nation in any way.

That may have all changed though. A total outsider and former Roman Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo, the man who campaigned as "bishop of the poor" won 41% of the vote in an election that witnessed the highest ever turnout (66%) to become president. Maintaining a tradition of giving out free food when 'on the stump' he offered hope and, according to the LA Times correspondent, "Lugo is like a charismatic comet on a collision course with the lumbering planet that is Paraguay's political status quo". His campaigning was very much street level, but the rhetoric is the language of change used the world over.

In commenting on Paraguayan democracy and the political elite Lugo stated: “in Paraguay there are only thieves and the victims of thieves”. His intention was to break the status quo on the back of "“an inclusive political movement because it is solely by coming together within diversity, with everyone respecting our natural differences that we can build a new Paraguay”. Sound familiar?

Lugo's is probably a great victory, if nothing else it shows that there is more than one party politics and that the electorate does have the power to change the system. The reasons he won seem so familiar and widespread though, even if the actual context may be less serious. Dissatisfaction with the system; the desire for a charismatic outsider, someone closer to the people; the desire for change; and perhaps also the desire for values beyond neo-liberal free market capitalism. In the US they have Obama, there are many examples of figures appearing across Europe, it seems voters across the world have similar desires. In accepting victory Lugo told reporters "Today we can dream of a different country... Paraguay will simply not be remembered for its corruption and poverty, but for its honesty." Can he deliver?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The first live, full vision interaction with a candidate

My thoughts or comments; a lot of negative remarks by Paddick, very wordy answers that limit the number of questions, a lot of ambitious plans that are hard to see costed perhaps (trams for example). The problem, where are those who asked the questions, did any Londoners watch. For all we know the audience could be mostly outside London or even the UK. But an interesting innovation that will remain a point of reference for anyone who wishes to elaborate on some of the proposals a candidate, in this case Paddick makes. Could this be the future of debates? Could it sideline Question Time? Does Paddick do a good job in answering questions? Does he do a good job in managing his image and public perceptions of him? What perceptions can you build from this?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Political Communication v.1.5

What many of us are fairly familiar with is the traditional top-down model of political communication which is carefully packaged for the media consumption by a mass audience; this is political communication v.1.0. The Internet offers new means of targeting smaller audiences with bespoke messages as well as allowing a more conversational discourse between elected and citizens; this is particularly the case with Web 2.0 applications and tools which increasingly appear as part of the professional political communicator's toolkit. We are finding that O'Reilly's architecture of participation, providing a place where people can come and contribute, is being created; perhaps giving birth to a political public sphere. But for the electoral political organisation there are other imperatives also, these include: avoiding embarrassing contributions and user generated videos, pictures and comments; controlling the message and brand communication; gaining support through perception management; and trying to become the focal point of a community online in order to build offline participatory support. This means that the democratic structure that characterises Web 2.0 is often absent, comments are moderated to ensure control, interaction is limited and politicians can remain spectators of discussions and not engaging directly with voters who come into their participator architecture. Myself and Nigel Jackson thus propose we are seeing political communication v.1.5, adapting slightly to Web 2.0 but also adapting Web 2.0 to the requirements of the electoral cycle. A thought that hopefully will be published soon, comments are welcome.

Penn not working with Paddick

Despite PR Week reporting Mark Penn was to advise Brian Paddick, which I repeated, I am reliably informed this is inaccurate; actually American web strategist Jerome Armstrong of the WebStrong Group are his team. And they are innovating. Using Ustream.TV, the live video webcasting site, Paddick will tonight (7.30-8.30 pm) answer questions in a live hustings. Campaign Manager Andrew Reeves said: “The live webchat will allow Brian to hold a virtual hustings with Londoners from the comfort of their own home. Using the Internet as a new way of engaging with Londoners will help Brian reach out to larger audiences and have a one-to-one dialogue with voters who would not otherwise attend political events. “Our Ustream.TV video webchat is a pioneering first in British politics and the next step in our ambitious web campaigning programme to promote Brian’s message of change and serious solutions for London.” Used widely in America, and part of a trend that utilises web technology to allow citizens to interact directly with candidates, it seems this is becoming more common. Key questions for me are: how many people will participate; will access be unregulated and if so can opponents hijack the questioning; will different people participate and engage, not just the already engaged and active? Sadly I will be on a train and unable to watch but I await the postmortem with interest. I do think that the Mayoral election is a testing ground for the next UK General Election, which wil also draw on the lessons from the US this year, if it works Ustream may get busy!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Do scathing attacks make a difference?

Brian Paddick is languishing in a distant third place with 12% of predicted votes while Boris Johnson seems the clear leader with 45% placing him as first preference. Perhaps in an attempt to redress the imbalance in his favour he has launched a scathing attack on both his opponents, particularly Ken Livingstone. He calls Livingstone a "nasty little man", "very unpleasant" who treated all critics with "contempt" despite having an "appalling record of maladministration"; recalling the days of Red Ken and the GLC he accuses Livingstone of creating a "socialist republic" of cronies within city hall. Boris Johnson, in contrast he calls "somewhat eccentric" but "harmless", nevertheless stating "I wouldn't trust him to run anything for me?". His conclusion unsurprisingly is that he is the only "serious candidate". Referring to his handling of the 7/7 bombings he states "When London faced its most serious test since the Second World War after 7 July, I was the figurehead for the police and arguably, bearing in mind I got more airtime than he did, even more of a figurehead than Ken Livingstone was on that occasion".

Unsurprisingly the interview was with the Evening Standard, never a fan or Ken at the best of times, however if these are Paddick's words they represent a rather robust attack from a man who has been keen to present himself as statesmanlike. Is this the last act of a desperate man relying on the advice of Hillary Clinton's former communication aide: Mark Penn? Will it have an impact? If Londoners recognise both the accusations as being founded on some truth and the caricatures he paints as reflecting their opinion it may make them think twice; if not it may, as negativity often does, lose him even some second preferences.


As I commented earlier, Ken now has Obama's team working for him; Paddick announced a few days ago that Mark Penn, sacked by Hillary Clinton, is now on his team to assist Democrat strategist Rick Ridder and US ‘blog­father' Jerome Armstrong. Gordon Brown and Boris Johnson seem to be sticking mostly with home grown talent, Brown recently hiring Mark Flanagan of LBC to a team with predominantly UK-based experience. but it is interesting that Americans are the most prized catches it seems, is it due to the fact that US politics is that little bit ahead in technology and strategy, is it based on the idea that if they can do well in the US the UK should be a piece of cake; or is it that there are so many professional political strategists in the US that they have to go abroad to find work? What the UK lacks are political consultancies and this is mainly due to the lack of funding for political campaigns, in the US the spending is bigger than many third world countries' debt, one does beget the other. But maybe more of the big PR and Marketing companies should set up a political wing, one of the key questions surrounding Americanisation as a concept is whether US practice can be transplanted within other nation's polities; some say yes, some say no. Without belittling the great work of our US colleagues, it does make me wonder whether a UK firm would have a better understanding of UK people, politics and communication? It's an interesting question if nothing else.

Politics, Music and Movement

In concluding a fascinating article in The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, Street, Hague & Savigny state that music is central to political and social movements as it, and its producers, have the ability to provide a platform from which public action emerges. Basically music has an inspirational quality that draws its audiences together and can create a movement. Reading that I heard on Radio 2 that Peter Garrett was now Minister for Environment, Heritage and Arts in Kevin Rudd's new government in Australia, who, so what?

Peter Garrett was singer with Australian band Midnight Oil, perhaps famous only for the track Beds are Burning outside of Australia, and a political campaigner. The song Beds are Burning talks of the clearances where a scorched earth approach removed Aborigines from large swathes of Australia: the songs message about that land "it belongs to them, lets give it back". He stood for parliament in the 1980s for the Nuclear Disarmament Party and encouraged public demonstrations against the introduction of ID cards, a successful campaign. He has also campaigned on environmental issues and is to be found on Youtube more often for 'green tips' than music videos.

Perhaps him being parachuted into the safe Labor seat of Kingsford Smith was a smart move by the party, perhaps they wanted the credibility that comes with a campaigner such as Garrett. His music is still around and, if the campaigns he promotes on his website is anything to go by, he retains interests in social equality, the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment. However some journalists have attacked him for being a turncoat as he declared he had to be a 'team player' in accepting decisions of the Australian Labour Party caucus; equally he came under fire for telling voters not to vote Green despite his environmental credentials. There was also a hint he had great expectations of Rudd as, when he was criticised for using political marketing and playing on the popular issues (referred to in this case as 'me too' politics as whenever Howard made a promise Rudd said 'me too'), journalist Steve Price quoted Garrett as saying "once we get in we'll just change it all".

And so what you may ask? This case made me think that while celebrities are indeed important in mobilising the public on political issues, just think Geldof, and music may capture a crowd's attention, they may not be right for politics itself. The reason is that they are better campaigners than law-makers and their credibility is always questioned when they cross the divide. Secondly they often seem to be idealistic and passionate about causes, this may make them popular but they raise expectations that cannot be met when constrained by collective decision making. Thirdly they court attention and, not being professional politicians, make remarks that are treated differently if said by a politician than if said by a musician: musicians don't need to be on message or true to anyone but themselves. So while as outsiders they have a potentially powerful role in politics, when inside politics they may become shadows of their former selves mocked for selling out. In Garrett's words from one of my favourites by Midnight Oil: Back on the Borderline:
And sometimes when a thousand voices
Tell you that you're wrong
A saint in any form
Becomes a sinner all along

Is this too negative? Is it negative at all?

Ken Livingstone argues that Boris Johnson's election broadcast is wholly negative and backward looking; in contrast his campaign focuses on successes and looks to the future. That is his claim. Below is Boris' video, is this highlighting problems Londoners face, the issues they care about, that they will recognise, and putting solutions forward; or is it offering a skewed and negative view of London under Livingstone. As I am not a Londoner it is hard to comment, so can any Londoners help me out on this and tell me who is right and who is biased?

Ken borrows from Barack

Blue State Digital will run Ken Livingstone's Internet campaign, the Internet firm behind Barack Obama, for the mayoral election and last night launched the first campaign video on YouTube. The video (below) is very simple in design, featuring still shots of Livingstone with ordinary Londoners accompanied by voice overs offering endorsements from those same ordinary people. The idea, according to Thomas Gensemer, the US firm's managing director, is to position Ken in the same way as Obama as an ordinary person; differentiating him from Boris Johnson the old Etonian (perhaps linking into the Labour strategy of referring to him as Mr Johnson and not Boris).

This video complements a series of vox pops with Londoners saying how great London is to live and work in, all of which appear on Ken's Youtube site (an example of which is below), he has also used the site to attack Boris Johnson's negativity and highlighting his own positivity.

The key message is to reinforce Ken's authenticity as a Londoner, something that won him power against the odds in 2000; but the important bit is not him saying that but real Londoners endorsing him as the candidate. It is working for Obama as he can claim an outsider status to some extent; can it work for the incumbent?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The main event

Hard to believe given everything that is said about low engagement in elections and politics in general but CBS is gearing up for High-Definition (HD) not for a big reality final or sporting event but the conventions, as Frank Governale, vice president of operations for CBS News says
“The [political] conventions will be our first big event in HD and our new [HD] control room should be online by early June, then we’ll start doing some news in HD... Editing will be a challenge because of all the SD [4:3] source footage intercut with HD. Our Avids [Adrenaline Newscutters] output only one channel at a time, either HD or SD. For the HD newscast, all the SD footage will be upconverted and standards converted on the timeline. Our router outputs will all have upconvertors so that we can output everything in HD. The existing infrastructure for SD is huge, so we’ll start upgrading where and when it makes sense, but it’s going to take time for a complete HD roll out.”
Clearly they expect a lot of viewers who demand a perfect image of everything as it happens, is this due to interest in the campaign (perhaps an Obama effect) or that there is typically high interest in conventions

Mr Johnson, who's that?

If you call someone by their first name it shows liking, or at least familiarity, and so perhaps that is why most of those with an ounce of political knowledge feel comfortable referring to Boris Johnson as simply Boris. He is unique in many way, perhaps the only famous person since Mr Yeltsin to be called Boris, and so he has a particular standing and recognition is part of that. I remain surprised that the recognition seems to be making him a viable candidate for London mayor after his history of gaffes and the bumbling image he presents on television, but he is now positioning himself as a serious candidate. Hence it is surprising that Labour Minister Tessa Jowell, after ordering Labour MPs to refer to him as the formal Mr Johnson, rather than Boris, has defended this move by saying she wanted to avoid the election being seen as a joke. Surely Mr Johnson offers gravitas, whereas Boris with the epithets of 'bumbling' etc he has had is less serious. But perhaps it is actually not about the seriousness of the election but the credibility and familiarity Boris enjoys as 'Boris' that Mrs Jowell is most concerned about as his lead is extended.

Monday, April 14, 2008

It's the economy, stupid!

The words of Bill Clinton attacking George Bush Snr, which seem rather prophetic of the current problems facing British politicians and the attacks launched agaisnt both Gordon Brown and his Chancellor Alastair Darling. For Gordon Brown the challenge is to get voters to accept that there will be no crisis as he has contingencies in place, and that the crisis is not his fault but due to global economic problems beyond his control. The challenge for the Conservatives is the attach blame solely to Brown and to get the public to believe he is neither sufficiently prepared or equipped to deal with the impending crisis. If the crisis worsens the Conservatives benefit, if there are no further collapses then Brown may have time to shake this monkey off his back. Currently it is down to public trust to manage the economy, and perceptions of the two sides as they claim and counter-claim; the Conservatives' challenge, if they win an election prior to the global crisis going away, is to prove they can do better and to avoid opportunities for instant loss of credibility. Interesting times!!

Marketing Analogies and the Political Consumer

Nick Robinson creates some interesting analogies in his post of 8.30 this morning. Entitled the political marketplace he firstly links popularity with share value, so arguing that if Gordon Brown was a plc we would now be selling his shares and his value in the marketplace would be in free fall. He then moves on to suggest that the voters are buyers and sellers, and elections are a little like trading stock; is this an accurate reflection of the way the electors view democracy or is it a disservice to civic duty in Britain?

There are perhaps two issues here, one is the treatment of citizens as consumers by the parties and the media. While interesting and not for the consumption by the news audiences, Nick's metaphors seem to reflect observations that voters/citizens are passive, reactive and contributing to politics only through polling data and the ballot box. This can reinforce this behaviour and maintain audiences and reactors rather than participants. More importantly perhaps is the nature of democracy in Britain. While we can all say that participation is facilitated more than it ever was it reaches a small minority, few seem to be part of the new Web 2.0 democracy in reality. So the only chance to participate is a vote that may have little effect on the outcome and is unlikely to because at the local elections seats remain uncontested or so safe there is little point in making the effort.

But that does not make us consumers as consumers have choice. Perhaps what we are witnessing is not the rules of the marketplace filtering into politics but some of the attitudes, when there is no choice but two or three tarnished brands the product sector is ignored and alternative purchases are made: hence the shift from party politics to issue and cause based activism or transferring political ideologies to the consumer marketplace where we are seen to have power. When there is no perceiving benefit from participating, or from government actions, the voice of the dissatisfied consumer emerges: especially when high taxes do not equate to value for money. But there are citizens out there, it is not the case that we have a consumer society that wants individual benefits from market-oriented parties, they want that as well as the best politics for society (this is based on research findings); but they do not find that so become spectators of the political marketplace, where support goes up and down, but unsure who is setting the prices.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Hillary's last push

With a matter of 100 delegates between them and many super-delegates still in need of convincing, Hillary Clinton has launched her push to win Pennsylvania. One thing of benefit to her cause was a gig by Elton John that raised $2.5 million, but what is more important; his endorsement of the cash? Clearly there is a degree of synergy between his appearance and her use of the I'm still standing line. But perhaps of more help has been a gaffe, well perhaps an ill-judged line, from Obama. His statement about the disillusioned working class has been spun by opponents to make him appear patronising. His observations was: "You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And it's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations". Interestingly attacks have come from both Clinton and McCain, which suggests that not only does Clinton see him as the main rival but so does McCain. The big questions is will either his comments or Elton's appearance have an impact on the contest? With 10days still to go to the Pennsylvania primary he has time to recoup as does Clinton to drive public opinion against him; so who will the voter believe. If the voters in Pennsylvania did not "need a president who looks down on them", as Hillary claims, and Obama becomes linked with looking down on them as opposed to being one of them it could be quite damaging.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mud & Pledges

Boris Johnson has utilised the favourite the pledge card (above), standard fair: I promise to solve the issues Londoners say are most important - a typical marketing tool. However Labour must be worried as they, well Tessa Jowell is the name on the email, have countered each of his pledges thus: "Boris Johnson can make promises now but the reality is that he:
• voted against automatic five year sentences for people caught carrying illegal guns
• failed to support measures to take tough action on crime
• would deny young couples the opportunity of owning their own homes by scrapping affordable housing policies
• would make transport more expensive by pushing up bus and tube fares
• is making uncosted campaign promises that he would not be able to keep - a cynical move that will let down Londoners.

There is also the competence issues, something which both sides are asking voters to consider. Boris stresses the failures of the Livingstone administration (an example of this is left), Labour meanwhile seem to be playing on a belief that everyone already suspects Johnson's ability so we will repeat and remind phrases such as "incompetent Boris Johnson in City Hall taking risks with their cost of living.". So it seems this close contest may come down to a contest over credibility, who do Londoners believe will do the job best, secondary trends my be whether there a significant interest in change and how Londoners assess Livingstone's performance. It could be interesting to see whose mud sticks and whose pledges are believed.

Scarred of the headlines

Responsible parenting has been the subject on ITV's This Morning and David Cameron weighed in to declare himself as a disciplinarian. Well almost,. He stressed the importance that "kids grow up knowing the difference between right and wrong" (blamed on "breakdown in society and the family unit"), he favours the naughty step and admitted "sometimes you have to grab them - and that happens quite a lot" but he was less than equivocal on whether he did smack his children more that he could see when it may be necessary. Tony Blair did admit to smacking all children apart from the youngest, is that because he had become PM, or Leo was a saint, too young or just that he didn't want to say anything about now in the same way as Cameron seemed uneasy. Perhaps the same thought entered both minds when considering their words, the headline 'Conservative leader beats his children' screaming out of the news stand. As Nick Clegg discovered an honest admission or guess-timate can be a dangerous thing if a journalist is looking for a hook on which to hang a story. Perhaps what every politician should do is fill out a questionnaire, prepared with public input, they would be forced to be totally honest, and the purpose would be 'How average are you'; that it seems is the point underlining many of the statements politicians make and if all answer truthfully it would take the wind out of the sails of the journalist looking for sleaze to hype up.

Engagement via Youtube

Every election campaign now involves Youtube, it seems almost de rigeur and normal. There are not many questions uploaded yet and not much activity but as the contest moves towards a conclusion it could be interesting to see how many engage with the three main candidates and want to talk about issues. Currently it is just the 'wall' that is gaining attention, here we find issue based questions some of which border on the philosophical to some extent i.e.: "Is it right that an indigenous population should be allowed to become an ethnic minority in their own city without even being consulted?" but then we have social media graffiti a la: 'BORIS IS A CUNT' a weighty contribution from someone called Pete. But, that aside, is Youtube offering a real potential for a new level of engagement or is it just a passing fad that only a few will bother with - an interesting question!!

Charity Idol

Gordon Brown as made an appearance on American idol by way of a pre-recorded video that asks the audience to donate money to an appeal to supply mosquito nets in a bid to stamp out unnecessary deaths from malaria. Opening with "All year on Idol, it's the talent of the American people we admire. But tonight, it's your generosity" and telling the 30 million strong audience that there is "nothing more amazing than saving a life" he then signed off with a very American blessing: "Thank you and God bless you all." The media seem a little critical of this as a stunt, and certainly it ties him to the uber-cool show that seems to have global popularity; but is the most important point of this actually getting the message across to, and money out of, this huge audience? Are Brown's motives all good, is he seeking to enhance his poor image, are people just cynical to suspect the latter?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

is this interaction?

In a party political broadcast tonight PM Gordon Brown invited viewers to text Gordon to 60022 and send a question that he would then answer via the Labour website. The answers are by way of a badly produced video where sound is a little all over the place but who cares about those fine details.
The key question is, are these real viewer questions or the ones GB wanted to answer? Is this an opportunity to appear to speak to viewers while answering the questions he wants to answer, so making statements by the back door? Or is this real interaction between the nation's leader and its people on the issues that concern the latter? Finally why is GBs mike so far away???
P.S. love the way the 'tough', 'people's' interviewer backs up GB, especially on how good policing is in her area under Labour!!

An aide to engagement or indecision

It claims to "help you to determine your preference for the London mayoral and Assembly elections", whether it does is more questionable. Vote Match London 2008 offers 25 statements which which you can agree, disagree or neither, you can then match yourself against the candidates on all the topics. While it aids you to see who is closest on the issues that are of most concern, so if you agree that "The 'stop and account' form that the police have to fill in when they use stop and search powers should be scrapped" you find both Boris Johnson and Brian Paddick agree while all the rest do not. If this was the single issue that concerned you then you could use the proximity theory of voting and assume that the candidates closest to you on that single issue should get you votes (1st and 2nd preference) with the order chosen by other cues perhaps.

But it is slightly more complicated over the whole 25 issues. Though not a Londoner, so ineligible to vote, I found that I was tied with three candidates, Paddick, Johnson and Damien Hockney the leader of One London who I confess to not having heard of; close runners up were the Green Party and Ken Livingstone. That either makes me seriously weird and having various incompatible views that cross party divisions or normal and actually the candidates themselves overlap considerably on many key issues. If the latter, and I like to think of myself as normal even if others do not, I could do one of two things: I could find out more about all three and narrow it down to two and place them in order; or I could think the whole thing is far too difficult and give up. Hopefully this idea will make more Londoners engage on the issues, and elaborate on these simple cues due to becoming interested in the campaign and the candidates (as some academics would predict could happen); but....

The unprofessional professional?

Mark Penn (left) has been a trusted adviser and aide to the Clintons since the mid 1990s, it has been a sideline alongside to his proper job of running public relations company Burson-Marsteller, a global giant in the sector who has the mission statement of providing a 'gold standard' to clients. But will Penn's credibility be damaged by his performance serving Hillary Clinton? There are a number of areas of the campaign where the "Monday-morning quarterbackers" (media pundits that dissect campaigns) have found Penn at fault: his over confidence in her as the obvious winner, the reliance on the Clinton name and lack of understanding of the public mood and desire for change being the major areas. It was a conflict of interests that sealed his fate, he was negotiating a free trade agreement with Columbia that Bush is trying to drive through Congress that the Democrats and Clinton in particular oppose wholeheartedly; hence Bush's urgency. Its seems the PR man got it wrong on a number of counts; is this surprising.

Well maybe and maybe not. While Penn may have the experience of managing the communication and reputation of millions of household brands (be they consumer goods or nations) he may not fully understand public engagement with politics. We do not get bored of all brands in a product sector, maybe one brand, but not them all. We do not desire new brands to appear that offer something totally different. Importantly we also are likely to trust most high street brands. These things are different in politics and in the US in particular at the moment. The polls seem to show a boredom with the brands and what they represent, thus much is focused on the character and persona of the candidate for presidency. Second the reason for Obama's success is the desire for systemic change by a significant amount of voters; the only question they face is whether Obama is the right man to change the system. And trust, well who trusts politicians? PR does not normally face such a complex and hostile environment, also it does no normally overtly play with negative messages, and you can have as many clients at the same time as you can handle and there are rarely conflicts of interests, especially not on ideological grounds.

All this raises an interesting question are the communications, marketing and public relations professionals really equipped to work within modern political campaigning? Do they really have the skills and knowledge required and are they able to transfer and adapt their skills to suit the context of politics? A big question!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Obama Fellowship

Here's an odd one;

But I also want to let you know about an exciting project that we'll be kicking off in all 50 states this summer. It's called the Obama Organizing Fellowship. When I was a young man, I was inspired by the Civil Rights Movement and the idea of people working at a grassroots level to bring about change. I got my chance on the South Side of Chicago, as a community organizer, and it was the transformative experience of my career. It allowed me to put my values to work and to see that real change comes not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up, when ordinary people come together around a common purpose. The experience changed the course of my life -- and I want to share that kind of opportunity with you. That's why we're introducing a program that's going to train a new generation of leaders -- not only to help us win this election, but to help strengthen our democracy in communities across the country. If you apply and are selected, you'll be trained in the basic organizing principles that this campaign and our movement for change are built on. You will be assigned to a community where you'll organize supporters. Assignments will begin in June, and you'll be required to work a minimum of six weeks over the summer. This program is designed to give you real world organizing experience that will have a concrete impact on this election.

The big question is whether this is simply about mobilising people to campaign for Obama, or is it genuinely about building a new progressive generation of politicians? A bigger question, is all of this community work sustainable should Obama win the Presidency and if not what will the impact be on engagement in US politics?

Testing the water

After the debacle of those Labour advertisements that were widely criticised for being anti-Semitic - a wonderful way of stealing their thunder in my view - anyone thinking that publishing online an ad you may feel to be controversial is a strategy to be considered with care. Brian Paddick allows visitors to his site, and invites his Facebook fans, to vote on whether he should focus his negative online advertising on criticising Labour and the failure to make Crossrail work successfully, or alternatively highlighting the number of times Boris Johnson has been sacked for lying across his career as a journalist and Shadow Minister. Actually visitors are then asked to donate to pay for the advertisements to be placed so it is voting with the wallet, an interesting idea though. You can, as a candidate, assess which advertisement is most relevant to supporters, has most resonance, and get them to pay for placing it. If you see a lot of either of these it could just be the result of his supporters wanting you to see it; if you see neither then perhaps it could be read as an indication that negativity isn't the best strategy.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The turnout challenge

I will be interested to find out if turnout for the London Mayoral Election is higher than expected this year, and in particular if it is higher among the 18-25s. The reason for the latter is that a Facebook group has been created by London Elects, presumably, the body overseeing the running of the contest. It is very simple, it has a logo that reminds about the date, offers links on how to register and who the candidates are and has created an event which all members of the London network are invited to join: once joined they can be contacted about the event by London Elects and reminded the day before and on 1st May. The attempt is clearly designed to reach out to a voter group that have lesser likelihood of participating via a media they are expected to use and interact with; hits all the buttons but will it work? Will it be just the over 30s Facebook users and political anoraks (yes, that is me I refer to) that sign up and vote or will a few 18 yr old new voters be drawn out by this experiment?

London Elects is not alone in getting a seat on the Facebook bandwagon. The Power of Information Taskforce has been created, under the leadership of Tom Watson MP (right), which aims at helping government departments make better use of the Internet. Just focusing on one site Netmums a "unique local network for Mums (or Dads), offering a wealth of information on both a national and local level", Watson argues "Having 100,000 mums on a social network like NetMums sharing ideas about how you bring up kids or what it's like to give birth can be useful to government because they can talk about the services that they provide. Government can be useful to them to give them advice on what's good and what isn't good". So perhaps the notion of political marketing will incorporate data collection on the issues of concern via monitoring social networks which will then be reiterated back to the public via manifestos.

But Watson sees a far more benign purpose and one that mirrors the growing trend for politician's use of ICT, he argues: "We have got to go where our citizens are congregating". Therefore he is selling the idea of going online, reaching out to voters/citizens and I guess getting them to then visit bespoke government and party sites, ergo: "it is genuinely so easy to set up a Wiki or a chat room and that it's useful to help people do their job and share ideas". True but for what purpose and with what effect? Engagement is the bottom line it seems but, as with the bid to get more voters turning out on May 1st, will it work?

Sex, Leaks and Media Hype

Does it matter that Ken Livingstone has five children by three different women, is the issue one of his honesty and integrity or is it true that, as he claims, the public have no interest in his private life. Should we read anything at all into the fact that Nick Clegg 'may have' slept with 'no more than 30 women' in his life? Should we agree with the suggested title for a blog post on the Independent of "Why Political Pundits are Gossip Obsessed Twats". Of course being in the public eye invites scrutiny, and deservedly so; and if like Clegg you allow Piers Morgan to interview you for GQ you get what you deserve, but the obsession with gossip and the sex lives of politicians can detract from the real issues. In terms of media management, while Livingstone is under fire for criticising a Yougov poll that shows Boris Johnson with a 12% lead and the focus is on the marginality of the race, maybe a more personal story is of use to Livingstone. Thus stories such as this may well be liked by journalists but can also be leaked to cover up worse stories that really do have political impact.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Tracking the super-delegates

As we have heard, the outcome of the race to Democrat candidate in the US presidential election is down to the delegates who are sent from each of the states and then the superdelegates who can, when the contest is close, be swayed by the candidates and their campaigns, the voting across the states or other interests. Some have already declared, some are undecided but have voiced leanings but until the nothing is definite. The only hints are what the superdelegates say, privately or publicly directly or in the media. To aid understanding and observation of the process, an online wiki has been created to monitor these hints. The Superdelegate Transparency Project has created a wobble list, currently there is little 'wobbling' going on but if any citizen hears a hint that a declared or leaning candidate does hint a shift in their allegiance they can report it and, quite clearly, it would be difficult to shift for the wrong reasons as any hint of shift may have to be justified.

The important thing is the fact that it is the citizen that is asked to contribute to this wiki and report hints of shifts by the superdelegates. This empowers the electorate to scrutinise the superdelegates and go online to both monitor and report on their behaviour. Backroom deals are made more difficult and it is the citizens at whatever level that can monitor activity. The problem maybe that anyone could maliciously post and undermine a superdelegate or even a candidate; whether this will happen is an interesting one to watch particularly as the campaign heats up, pressure becomes more intense and thus superdelegates are called on to declare.

A war of rhetoric

"Rocky Balboa had gotten halfway up those steps and said, 'Well, I guess that's about far enough'. Let me tell you something, when it comes to finishing a fight, Rocky and I have a lot in common. I never quit."
A nice quote, a nice bit of rhetoric, and a nice link to popular culture and the notion of the all-American fighting spirit. But this line could backfire if the media also notes that in the 1976 film Balboa lost despite advise that he should give up. Hillary Clinton, the person who delivered this line as part of the last stages of the Democrat nomination race, is under pressure to concede and stop the division within the party in order to redouble efforts to undermine the McCain onslaught. Clinton seems under pressure to be twice the man of any other candidate, but is the rhetoric right and the messages resonating with those who will determine the outcome of the contest?

Is it not just a little childish?

It is a little surprising that when visiting her Peckham constituency, surrounded by police officers, Harriet Harman felt it necessary to wear a stab vest. In particular when in her defence she claimed she dressed in 'appropriate clothing'. William Hague did not exactly go for the jugular when making the jibe: "Presumably when you go to a cabinet meeting you dress as a clown." Neither did Harman talk about real issues in responding "If am looking for advice on what to wear or what not to wear, I think the very last person I would look to for advice is the man in a baseball cap," such it seems is the standard fare for PMQs even when it is the first time a woman has stood at the dispatch box since Thatcher. It seems that only John Humphreys on the BBC Today Programme felt willing to tackle her on the important issue that the everyday Londoner may consider: "You wear a hard hat on a building site because there are dangers there. There is the danger that something might drop on your head. You don't need to wear a bullet-proof vest on the streets of London, do you?" And that is the issue, one explored further more broadly in the media but not in parliament, it suggests the streets of Peckham are not safe to walk and this is not a good message for a cabinet member to send out when gun and knife crime are prominent in the media. What amazes me is that the professional image consultants and dressers seem unable to give good advice these days.

Pavement Politics and the postmodern campaign

While Brian Paddick is advertising the harnessing of Twitter, two of his opponents are talking about the importance of getting out on the streets. In Sunday's You magazine Boris Johnson talks about how recognition among the taxi drivers and ordinary people is important with the interviewer hinting that he is increasingly being taken seriously while retaining public good will. George Galloway, who wants to make the jump from independent MP to Independent Mayor is going back to his Big Red Bus (once collecting charity on the way to Baghdad) and encouraging supporters to join him. In a message to his Facebook fans he calls to his supporters: "We’ll be out from about 12pm every day til 7 in the evening. We’ll be stopping to give out leaflets and speak to people and really trying hard to build my vote and for the other London Assembly candidates. Come to Club Row, London E1 (near Liverpool Street and Bethnal Green tubes) every day for 12pm to join us on the bus". This is the practical evidence of the emergence of a postmodern campaign: going out to the people using multi channels as appropriate to ensure reaching the greatest number of the target electorate.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Welcoming the twittering citizen

After David Cameron's attempt at engaging, answering questions via a media blog, perhaps a more innovative and more serious attempt at getting a lot of questions answered is the idea of LibDem London Mayoral candidate Brian Paddick. He is using Twitter, a system that allows very simple statements to be sent, usually describing the 'twitterers' status (Darren Lilleker is at the PSA Conference for example - well actually I am not but you get the idea). These are sent on to followers and they can respond if they choose. In Paddick's case he would be receiving and responding.

The downside is that all questions and answers will be pretty brief, hence questions that require significant detail may be difficult to handle; also it could be hijacked by opponents. But on the upside this is not answering four or five questions but could allow a lot of answers depending on the time devoted (and there is a 5 day period). If handled well it will not only offer the perception of being responsive but show true responsiveness and interactivity and allow Paddick to get a real sense of the temperature and strength of opinion and where the public stand on the issues. But there may be one further problem with this idea, while it seems Paddick may be unlikely to win if we believe polls if a candidate did this and won it would place a heavy burden of expectation on their shoulders. Could you twitter from the Mayor's office or No 10, well yes you could, but would you want to or should you? It is an interesting question and worth thinking whether any citizen should have the right to ask the Mayor, PM or their MP "what are you doing for me right now?".

Getting young people engaged

Here is Liberal Democrat Steve Webb's take on why politicians should use social media. It epitomises the LibDem philosophy of going out to where the people are (pavement or social media) and engaging them on their terms about their issues.

Is he correct?

Deliberately Unspun or just unprofessional?

When Gordon Brown first became Prime Minister he said he would reject spin as a tactic, and some bits of his communication were questioned as to whether they gave the perception of someone to whom image does not matter. This tactic may well have worn thin now though, particularly when his own colleagues are describing his speaking style as 'flat'. With that as context consider the email sent out by Labour to start their campaign for the local elections; a campaign of which the "starting point is, and always will be, the struggles and the hopes and ambitions of hard-working families". It is accompanied by the photograph (right) of genial Gordon, or is it the Boston Strangler; chief Dawn of the Dead zombie, what does this picture say? To be fair it should be a film of him talking but if your email blocks the javascript you just get this still image; it seems no-one considered that eventuality. What does it say to you?