Friday, July 25, 2008

E-political marketing

This combines the old technique of lobbying of MPs by citizens with a practice more commonly used in the US, which is mobilising the public using the Internet. Canvas Your MP is a Liberal Democrat led campaign, the challenge for them now is making an impact. In the US lobbying strategists have developed complex equations for both moving the votes of senators and gathering participants and supporters. For them it is about click-thrus, they will pay to embed a link on popular sites, recognise that no more than 10% click, that of that 10% only 1% sign up and so from that work out how many banners are needed on which sites to get the right amount of visitors clicking. Not sure what the distribution method for this campaign will be, currently it is viral and passed from friend to friend via FriendFeed, Facebook and over email, but is this sufficient to get to enough MPs across the country, and get anywhere near a significant number of constituents contacting their MPs? Is the informal recommendation via the online community the best strategy, or does the strategy need ratcheting up a notch.


The story of Cameron having is bike stolen, or the exclusive video provided by the Mirror of his reaction, will do the Conservative leader no harm at all. What is demonstrates is his authenticity, he is suffering crime in the same way as any other Londoner or Briton, and that experience means he is more in tune and empathic to the broader electorate. It is something else that brings him closer to the people and so not associated with stereotypes of being out-of-touch, upper class and an old Etonian; all things that may be used against him in a General Election if the conduct in Nantwich & Crewe is anything to go by. But will the jokey line "I am thinking of introducing Sharia law for bike theft. I will consult the Mayor of London" haunt him. While many may agree that cutting the hands off of thieves would be a good deterrent, and maybe represents the view of any victim of crime, will any aspect of the media take that seriously? If it was a Labour MP they probably would have jumped on it by now, but as Cameron leads in the polls will he get away with it?

Obama Style

It does seem rather odd to see a US Presidential candidate doing a world tour in the manner of a rock star but what he is managing to do is gain himself an image as a player on the world stage. Basically the strategy is to be the president, one must look like the president; while some could argue he is assuming the election is already won and so perhaps assuming too much, he is acting as if he were president. It enables the voters to get a sense of how he would look as president and perhaps establish if the untested Senator is up to the job. Polls suggest it is very tight and perhaps this is a good strategy, his weakness is inexperience so giving an insight in to the 'product' of an Obama presidency could work in his favour.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Do parties need leaders?

The Green Party has thus far survived while eschewing the whole idea of having a leader, instead they had principle speakers, the whole of whom it is to promote party policy on a national stage (cynics may say just like any member of a party's front bench). Currently their principle speakers are Caroline Lucas MEP and political economist Dr David Wall, both gain significant media coverage and, in many ways, act as leaders if only appearing as focal points. However underpinning the notion of principle speakers was the notion that there was no one leader but it was a movement and the speakers spoke on behalf of that movement; in themselves they did not decide policy, nor were they seeking any form of self aggrandisement.

On her campaign website Carline Lucas argues that "The election of a leadership team offers us new and exciting opportunities to take the radical message of Green politics into the mainstream". Fair enough, they have been mocked for not having a leader in the media; perhaps it is a sign of them evolving into a political party as opposed to a movement; having a leader is professional, it shows organisation. But is it really necessary? Are they better of with the principle of speakers standing on the shoulders of a movement they represent? I guess it raises the question of the role of the leader, are they the navigator, the rudder, or simple the representative. Tradition tells us the leader is the navigator the plots the political course of the party, in the words of US President Harry Truman "A leader is a man [person] who has the ability to get other people to do what they don't want to do and like it"; this certainly is the role assumed by Blair and Cameron, the successful reforming party leaders of recent years, but is the Green Party ready to be led? The man who Lucas supports to be her deputy, and who in turn supports her for leader, Adrian Ramsay, thinks the party do want a 'leader' and it is Lucas' "extraordinary abilities and expertise" that make her the best choice. While I agree she would make a great leader, is the the start of the shift away from a movement and towards being something the Greens are not actually comfortable with being: a professional electoral party?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A passing but timely blip

Gordon Brown and labour have reversed the trend in opinion, they have actually seen an increase in support overall, and crucially are leading in polls taken in Glasgow East where there will be voting in the by-election on Thursday. But is this a sign that Brown is going to seriously challenge Cameron's Conservatives again? I don't think so, rather this is a reaffirmation of support for Labour from those most concerned with world affairs and in particular the Middle East situation. Brown's carefully crafted position, a rare thing in recent months, placed him as firmly against any initiative that could damage a peace process from either side. He retains sympathetic to Israel, but criticised their tactics. I think this resonated among issue supporters and so won him support, as soon as the agenda swings back to domestic affairs this may well evaporate. Why, because I see no other reason for that increase in support other than his recent visit to the Middle East, this was new ground for him, but the old problems are still here at home and he will have to deal with those now he has returned. The big question then, will this blip carry him through Thursday?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Rock N Roll N Norman Baker

This is what all MPs should do to offer a perception of their real selves, LibDem MP for Lewes is taking to the mic alongside The Jazz Caverners to provide an afternoon of rock and roll classics at the All Saints Centre, in his Lewes constituency. Brilliant!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Fear and Loathing in the US?

At an Ad Age event Liberal Internet publisher Arianna Huffington is challenged to build a campaign for McCain despite her obvious support for Obama. The interesting thing is that Huffington seems to be unable to be original and instead caricatures the current McCain campaign, spreading fear about the un-American, untested, pro-Muslim/Hammas nature of an Obama presidency. In fact her comments about Obama and his wife virtually replicate the inferences offered by the much criticised cartoon on NY Post front page. Her analysis is fear versus inspiration, the big question is what will US voters find most persuasive? If they accept the McCain arguments, see them as potentially true, they may well be drawn away from Obama; to support Obama is actually a bigger step as they have to believe that the change he offers is deliverable and deliverable by him. Of course the negativity could undermine McCain as the sender, but it will be interesting how the campaign will play out in the minds of voters.

Return on Investment?

The release of MPs expenses is often an occasion to marvel at either the strange, the exorbitant or the minuscule. With the Conservatives publishing the whole MPs expenses for the last three months (see here) as part of the transparency equals trust agenda, it is interesting to see how much MPs spend on communications. This category of spend is sadly most frequently an undefined general amount, so we know that Jonathan Djanogly spent £18 April to June; while David Davies (that's Davies of Monmouthshire) spent £7494.76. The problem is we do not know how that £7000+ is broken down. Other MPs are far more transparent and offer a full breakdown and this is fascinating in terms of their communication priorities and the potential return on investment.

Surprisingly, flicking through the report I estimate at least half spent absolutely nothing on communication, this suggests that either their communication (such as updating or maintaining a website) is free, or it is purely media relations and swallowed within the budget of a staff member. Staff may also be updating the website etc and so there is no extra cost. The major spend is the Westminster Report, the MP's newsletters which vary in frequency (2-4 per year) and in delivery method (TNT, Royal Mail). The average cost for this is £2796.

Websites are the next priority and, for those that have an associated cost, are far cheaper. While it is not defined exactly what the spend is, of the 17 that have a cost associated with the website all but three are below £1000, and seven are below £500. The disparity is interesting, one does wonder why Tony Baldry's website cost £1882.94, though an excellent site it does seem high. This is particularly when contrasted with David Cameron who pays £246.25 to Reaper Enterprises Ltd for his constituency website a separate entity to WebCameron.

For me this is interesting as it displays a shift in priorities to some extent. Interviewing MPs in 2002 as part of a project working for Ralph Negrine, few talked much about websites or constituency newsletters, the majority were concerned about media relations. The Liberal Democrats were alone talking about the Focus newsletter, this seems now to becoming a widespread practice. However the question is on return on investment. Is up to £5000 per quarter or per annum (I did wonder if some of the expenses declared were one-off or yearly payments; some say they are, some are unspecified) a good investment for something that may line a budgie's cage, cat litter tray or go straight into the bin? Well the answer is yes as somewhere in that process the recipient may recognise that their MP has communicated with them, assume this means they are working on their behalf, and so the MP gains an incumbency benefit. Equally, and aside from winning votes, it is a good thing that MPs demonstrate they are acting as representatives. But can websites overtake the newsletter? This would be highly cost effective and perhaps have more impact on that incumbency value. The few MP's websites I looked at are very good, very much about the constituency, but do they have a pull factor that will get a constituent visiting and interacting with the MP?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The dangers of inconsistency

There is an opportunity, but also a danger, with the Internet; unlike printed matter you can update it and revise it. So policy, theoretically, can quickly be changed. But printed matter can also disappear, it is much harder to broadcast a leaflet around the world to show an inconsistency. Websites leave impressions and so if you want to and have the right software you can very simply go back to a previous incarnation of a web page and compare it with the new version. John McCain has done just that. In an argument over Obama's fitness to rule there was some contestation about whether Obama claimed the surge strategy in Iraq was working or not. On July 11th he did say just that, by the 14th there was a slightly more complex argument on offer. McCain has posted the two sites side by side (view here, snapshot is below).
This shows the dangers of saying something publicly, and especially on a website, then reversing that decision and trying to undo it. It is these moments when it is far easier to say actually I was wrong, but I suppose the risk is working out which will play worst in the perception of the voters: is it worse to (as McCain claims of Obama) he lied to make a political point; or is it worse to be wrong?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

GQ versus Cosmo

There are two new sites dedicated to politics. The first, also with a street publication, Total Politics seems more aimed at the more male end of the market perhaps. It is a lifestyle magazine for those working in politics and is very much about the nuts and bolts of politics. June Sarpong, ex-T4 presenter among other things, has created an online rival Politics and the City. More feminine and fluffier, Clare Staples blogs through the eyes of her dog, June blogs her appearance on Andrew Marr and coming soon will be the Minogue sisters. The links are predominantly the sort of content that would attract Heat/Cosmo readers and not those of the Economist etc. Iain Dale's Total Politics is much more serious and oriented towards those active in politics; Sarpong seems to be talking more to the women in the street. But will these find a wider audience, in particular will Sarpong manage to get women interested in politics? Given that the students who take my political communication option in October will most likely be predominantly female I will be interested in their evaluation of the site and how it compares to others (not sure about the lipstick though).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Acceptable satire?

Cartoonist Barry Blitt has the front page of the New Yorker magazine, his cartoon is being described as satire but the images of Obama dressed as a Muslim, his wife Michelle as a terrorist and the symbolic placing of the US flag on the fire and Osama bin Laden's prortrait above that fire is a very power attack on the Democratic nominee. But is it acceptable? Obama says it has gone too far! Would Private Eye show a similar image? Is anything fair game for the satirist or is there a line that should be drawn? Interesting questions huh?

Friday, July 11, 2008

The importance of being street smart

Colin Byrne, CEO of PR Agency Weber Shandwick has launched some serious criticisms against Gordon Brown and his communication team, one that seems to be ever changing and permanently on the back foot. In his blog on July 8th he noted:

Quite what prompted the incompetents - as they clearly are these days for
all their fat salaries and big job titles and egos - in the No10 bunker to have
the PM telling us to eat up our crusts one day and be photographed waving a
glass of wine around the G8 dinner table as he tucked into the conger eel the
next is beyond this simple communications guy’s understanding.

He notes here the double standards that was pervasive throughout hte G8 summit and so undermined much of what was said about being frugal and managing waste. But in an article in PR week out today Byrne expands on Brown's problem:

There's no way that these mistakes would have happened when Alastair
[Campbell] was there because he had news sense, he was street-smart. From what I
can see there is no-one at Downing Street from Brown downwards who has any
street smart

It seems quite worrying when there is a call for Campbell to come back given the stories of him haranguing news editors. However, what Byrne notes is that hostile coverage for most of the time was attached to Campbell, Blair remained teflon up until the Iraq War and that dodgy dossier;that was the spin too far. Brown instead is the archetypal velcro political leader, all that is wrong sticks to him. His early attempts to appear un-spun soon turned off the audience and now he appears to have attached the label loser among a large proportion of British voters according to Wednesday's populous poll for the Times. The big question is whether a Campbell figure could work for Brown in the same way as Blair, is the problem that he has no sense of how to manage his image? If image is important, he seems to fail to get anythign right; is this his problem or is his problem that nothing is going right so he gets the blame. In other words which way does the circle go; is it image first or is it the economy stupid?

So maybe they did care!

Every news outlet yesterday predicted a derisory turnout around the 20% mark and claimed this would be an indictment on David Davis' decision to step down to run on a civil liberties platform. Maybe the people of Haltemprice and Howden decided to fly in the face of predictions, or rather maybe they wanted to demonstrate that they did care and were mobilised by the media. It has been shown that as results are announced in the US presidential elections on the Eastern seaboard it affects voter behaviour in the West (see Geoffrey Peterson's work), so why cant the media also have an effect in either increasing or decreasing turnout through their use of polls and predictions. I wondered if some of the 17,000 voters who turned out to tick the Davis box watched the news, were told they didn't care, thought actually I do and so went out and demonstrated their concern.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Is this a push poll?

A push poll is a technique designed to gather the responses you want, or to persuade the 'participant' to think a certain way: a classic example was conducted a number of years ago by a certain tabloid newspaper. The question "in the light of the recent abductions of XXXXX do you think that paedophiles should be given mandatory life sentences", there are worse in politics. Some US push polls try to sell the idea that Barack Obama is in some way linked to Osama bin Laden, clearly thinking some Americans are stupid enough to take four out of five characters and the rhyming nature of the names as a link. Those examples aside that is the idea, so is this a push poll?

I argue it is, not because the question itself is loaded, and it does present the Conservative and Labour case, but this poll loaded onto the Conservative's Bebo profile, contains images that lead the reader to a conclusion. Given that many Bebo users are the young people we may expect (I stress may) to not have much political interest or knowledge, offering the message 'Do we want five more years of this' alongside the 'partly to blame' option suggests steering the reader towards the Conservative line. Currently it isn't working which perhaps indicates something about the Bebo users that engage with politics. Common sense suggests it is not solely Brown's mess but that he did not help the situation, I suggest that is a reasonably informed response and that is the majority albeit a narrow one. Is this practice ethical? Any views?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Is this why no-one is listening?

I make no value judgements here, rather I raise a question about strategy and to what extent one could be better than the other. Obama is unrelentlessly engaged in self-promotion and impression management. He is using Twitter to inform his 44,000+ followers on the message community what he is doing day-to-day. He is not a frequent twitterer but it is purely used to offer positive messages.
John McCain, while also promoting the odd campaign ad, largely Twitters about Obama. His strategy is to raise doubts in Obama as an outsider, as a credible president, as an honest man at times. Most of his messages link to, which is largely a blog that collects statements from all candidates. He only has 814 followers, and only follows 103 (Obama follows 45,000+ Twitter users).
Obama seems to have a constituency offline that are fairly devout, of course they may not all be American, so ineligible to vote, but that interest is their among the wired (or wireless) community. But is it also the nature of the messages that is attractive? Is McCain gathering support or does he need to offer more of a mixture and talk less about his opponent. Does this also account for Obama's lead in the polls, the strategy question is interesting and I do wonder if McCain is too negative in the face of an unremittingly positive opponent.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Branding and Educating

This is a wonderful example of branding which, rather than bracketing off history, is selective in presenting the Conservative leaders: "For more than two hundred years... succeeded by being on the side of progressive change". Some of the 'achievements' of recent leaders seem a little desperate, and there are some great selections and omissions that are clear to anyone with a sense of history; saying that though it is easy to remember why, for example, Eden is remembered as a bad prime minister but not what he did get right. It has been posted to their Bebo and YouTube pages, and possibly more widely. A way of educating about the brand via social networks.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sex and Politics

I am not sure if this merits commentary really, it elicits some fairly negative comments on Youtube. What is the message, well at the most basic level you wont get laid if you support the Republicans. Given the positive tone Obama has tried to maintain, and his insider versus outsider positioning of himself, I am surprised this has been approved, if it has. I tried to work out when it was produced but it is posted by Mediacurves (worth checking out in itself) a week ago suggesting it is recent. Is this the standard of political debate the Democrats want to encourage among young people? How does this effect brand Obama?