Month: September 2014

Campaign gaffes – so many to choose from!

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I was looking at some recent campaign gaffes in elections around the world and it reminded me of a recent article on Australian examples by Peter Chen from Sydney University.

I first met Peter Chen briefly in 2008 at a post-2007-federal-election workshop at ANU where he entertained a room of political science academics and practitioners with YouTube clips from the 2007 election campaign. Last year he wrote an interesting piece for The Drum about campaign gaffes

Peter Chen has also written a very good and thorough analysis of Australian Politics in a Digital Age, an ANU e-press thesis which is free to download here:

If you don’t have time to read the 2012 thesis you might prefer this shorter article from 2012 “Social Media, Youth Participation and Australian Elections” … in a nutshell: ” Social media used for political purposes is likely though, in the first instance, to attract those with pre-existing strong political interests. However, the generalisation of social media use, and its focus on sociality and community building, has the potential to change the way trusted political information is distributed and engagement occurs.”

Dr Chen’s thesis reveals he “is a lecturer in media and politics at the University of Sydney. He holds a PhD from The Australian National University. His research focuses on the relationship between media and political processes, with a particular interest in new forms of communication. He also teaches and researches in the areas of public policy, Australian politics and social movements. Peter is the author of numerous articles and chapters on the role of digital media in Australian political life, and the author of Electronic Engagement: A Guide for Public Managers (ANU E Press, 2007) and the co-author of Electronic Democracy? The Impact of New Communications Technologies on Australian Democracy (Democratic Audit of Australia, 2006). He is a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Information Technology & Politics and the International Journal of Electronic Governance.

I can’t seem to find him on Twitter though, which is a bit disappointing.

And here is Dr Chen chewing the fat with Jonathon Holmes from media Watch about politics and new media

P chen

In the Drum article Dr Chen refers primarily to Mr Abbott’s “suppository of all wisdom” gaffe and concludes “there is some truth in the repression view of gaffes. Where there are cognitive associations between concepts, verbal misstatements may reflect them in unguarded moments. The important question is to be able to delineate between simple error and significant and telling Freudian slip. In the latter case this would be most observable where these errors are repeated over time, eliminating the “momentary distraction” and “linguistic similarity” explanations. Tony Abbott may not have a deeply suppressed anal fixation, but his tendency towards repeated gender stereotypes (ironing and women, sex appeal as an important characteristic for women in public life, talking about Indigenous women simply as passive victims) does provide us with a sense that, in this policy area, there’s something to the slip of the tongue.”

It’s interesting that Dr Chen’s Drum article doesn’t mention Mr Abbott’s most famous gaffe of recent years with Channel 7 news reporter Mark Reilly, which became so famous it always features in every memorable collection of Mr Abbott’s past gaffes such as this one

Perhaps the nodding incident happened after the Drum article? I’m not sure. Either way, it’s hard to live down.

No doubt I’ll come back to this article with some more links about hilarious campaign gaffes here and overseas, although they’re pretty easy to find via google and youtube if you want to try.



Meet an election specialist – Associate Professor Jennifer Lees-Marshment

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I first met Jennifer Lees-Marshment over ten years ago when she was based in the UK but was working on Political Marketing and Political Science projects as a visiting fellow at ANU and presented some of her findings at seminars in the Australian Federal Parliament. We joked after one of her seminars about the defensive critiques she was receiving from some of the “practitioners” in the room. I won’t name names but needless to say our shared frustration with the overt cynicism many practitioners have for political scientists helped break the ice.


Jennifer is an international leader in political marketing which explores how politicians and government use tools like branding and market research to win and retain power.  Last year she pioneered the development of a new Stage Three course at Auckland “The Practice of Politics” (the only of its kind in New Zealand), which teaches students about the diversity of career options in politics and the challenges they may face. Jennifer has a BA (Hons) in History and American Studies from Keele University in the UK, an MA (with Distinction) in Politics from Manchester and a PhD in Politics from Keele.   She was a senior lecturer at Keele and Aberdeen universities before joining Auckland’s staff as a senior lecturer in 2005. She became an associate professor in 2012. Associate Professor of Political Studies Jennifer Lees-Marshment is academic adviser to New Zealand’s Vote Compass – the online election tool, hosted by TVNZ, which enables voters to find out how their views on a range of issues compare to the positions of parties in the build up to New Zealand’s 20 September General Election.

Her research and writing broadened the scope of political marketing from campaigning to behaviour and from elections to governing and has been widely cited and influential with review comments including ‘an enormous contribution’; ‘a must-have-on-your-shelf volume’; ‘authoritative and accessible’; ‘sophisticated, learned research’; ‘an important and innovative book’; ‘sagacious views’; ‘a wealth of insights’; ‘a hugely informative study on an important field’; ‘ground breaking’; ‘a timely and extremely important book’; ‘a valuable addition.’; ‘pioneering collection’; ‘a significant contribution.’ She has authored/edited 13 books and reviews have noted the practical advice within them: ‘crucial to our understanding of how this world works — not just in theory, but in practice’; ‘all those who claim to understand modern political strategy, all those pundits and government-relations experts we see on TV, should keep this volume at hand as an essential reference’; ‘this book will be a bible for political operatives to be kept close at hand for frequent reference.’ She has also interviewed over 200 political elites and involved practitioners in events and publications throughout her career. Her newest book is The Ministry of Public Input to be published in January 2015.

In July this year Associate Professor Marshment made a brilliant presentation to the 2014 Campaign Management and Political Marketing Workshop held at Sydney University in July (and I will eventually write a separate post about her presentation and a few others when I find some more spare time). In the meantime, your best understanding about her work will be derived from purchasing her latest book: Political Marketing Principles and Applications which is well worth the investment for the interview-derived case studies alone.

jlm book

So tell me about yourself. Who are you in a nutshell?  I am a gardener academic – I like to break new ground and nurture new ideas and people to grow into the tallest of trees people came climb and get a different view from. I produce ground breaking research that aims to change the way people think – early in my career I argued that political marketing wasn’t just about selling or campaigning; I am now arguing for new views on political leaders and public input in government. I also want to take university out of the ivory tower and connect it with the real world through research led but practice oriented teaching. As a nurturing leader, I look for ways to support new ideas, new scholars, new studnets all the time, and work across the usual hierarchies of power, discipline and geographical boundaries. Of course, doing all of this puts me up against some pretty big brick walls – being a leader, who seek leadership as about supporting others not just promulgating your own ideas and power, and thinks academics are there to serve society not just create knowledge for knowledge sake is “disruptive thinking” for most institutions, and goes against the grain of traditional culture. But when I look back on my career I have achieved so much in terms of changing views of political marketing, connecting and supporting people I remain proud of this wonderful – if challenging – path I choose to take.

Where do you live/work/study/teach?  I work at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and teach Political Marketing, Political Management in Government and The Practice of Politics.

What compels you to write and research politics?  A fundamental passion to write about what is really going on in politics, uncover things people do not normally see, communicate those new findings, generate debate about them, and use them to inform better practice through teaching and professional training. For example I have helped to show that political marketing is happening throughout the world not just in campaign time and involves a whole range of marketing tools and concepts. And more recently with my work The Ministry of Public Input I found that politicians are integrating a range of public input into their decision making and being reflective and deliberative. We don’t see that from the outside so I think it’s important academics find it out and let everyone know. Whilst I think academia needs to connect with the outside world, I still believe in the value of traditional critical objective research, but I just then go one step further in trying to take that research to the real world. It’s not so much changing what we do as changing what we do with it.

What do you love about politics?  Ultimately it’s about how to make life better for everyone. My real underlying passion is how can we get politicians to be more responsive to the public and provide them with – or work with them to create – a better life. It appeals to my sense of what democracy is all about. And I love trying to understand it, seeing my theories proven right – and learning all over again when they might be found to be wrong or need updating!

Is there anything you don’t like about modern politics?  The cynicism towards politicians. As employers of politicians we do not manage them well. All we do is see their bad points; we fail to see how hard they work, how reasonable most of them really are; and how they are just doing their best to create a better society. I’ve presented my research on political leaders recently and been really taken by the huge negativity that comes towards you when you suggest – on the basis of research – that politicians might actually act and think in a way that is positive. People don’t want to hear it; they much prefer to think badly of politicians. That isn’t good for democracy.

Compulsory or voluntary voting?  Voluntary

Who are your favourite writers?  I like any story about someone triumphing over obstacles. No particular favourite authors.

What are your favourite websites and news sources?  The NZ Herald as it has a free app that is easy to use. For the NZ election I am recording the one news by TVNZ so I keep up to date with it all but normally I wouldn’t as it’s kid dinner bath bedtime.

What’s the first thing you do each morning?  Feel tired. I don’t get enough sleep/rest.

What is your one recommended must-read for aspiring psephologists?  Well you invited the plug so I would say The Political Marketing Game as it gives a great overview of what political marketing is all about and has material from interviews with 100 practitioners in it, not just academic theory. Either that or the textbook introducing the field – Political Marketing: Principles and Applications 2nd edition.  Or Shopping for Votes by Canadian journalist Susan Delacourt which is an easy but informed and objective read into the use of marketing in Canadian politics.

What’s your favourite political movie/book/documentary/TV series?  Commander in Chief was good. I liked Scandal and House of Cards but they get a bit far fetched/too much about stuff that isn’t politics after a while.

Is there a funny or brilliant political ad you’d like to share?  This is a funny one done by the National Party against Labour in NZ in 2005

Then there is Dave the Chameleon done by UK Labour against David Cameron which illustrates some of the problems with over marketing politicians –

What are you currently reading or working on?  Nothing! Well, not a publication anyway – I am doing Vote Compass for the 2014 New Zealand election; and distributing a report from The Ministry of Public Input to government staff to get the idea of creating an all of government unit to collect, analyse and communicate public input going round government. And trying to get a book series in political marketing underway. So then again, quite a lot…but having completed 3 books in the last two years and having no new book to write as yet it feels like a lot less work.

Which other psephologists do you recommend I interview soon? Andre Turcotte at Carleton University in Canada. He’s a political marketer who runs a course on political management but also carries out market research so he would definitely be good.

Jennifer recently gave an interview to a University publication about her life, her work and interests. below is a photo of the published interview, with a transcript further below.

JLM My story Sept 2014 sml 

What did you love doing when you were a child? I read a lot of books. My favourite author was Enid Blighton. I also wrote plays and stories when I finished the set work in class. I was born in Birmingham in the Midlands and then moved to Staffordshire when I was about 10.

Tell us about your first job? The first job I had was picking strawberries. From the 30 pounds I earned, I brought a special disc for my typewriter so I could type italics.

Did you have a favourite teacher? At Sir Graham Balfour High school in Staffordshire, my history teacher Mr Stephen Day generated my love of political history. He brought it alive by comparing 18/19th century events to those happening in the 20th.  At University my PhD supervisor, Dr Matthew Wyman was very supportive of my new ideas on political marketing and we’ve kept in touch, authoring a chapter on teaching professional politics. I got the idea for doing a Practice of Politics course from the one he created in the UK.

How and when did you decide what your career would be? My mother did a degree in psychology at Aston University in Birmingham when I was five and I vividly remember going into university lectures with her in school holidays – daycare was not so available then. I distinctly remember this professor putting up on an overhead projector a simple picture of a house with windows and doors and I thought: “I could draw that. I could be a professor.” He was probably talking about environmental psychology and was doing a very complex analysis but to my child’s eye it seemed easy! I also grew up in the time of Margaret Thatcher. It was absolutely brilliant having a woman prime minister; you had the sense that you could do anything.

I didn’t plan on doing politics at university though – I’d wanted to be a barrister but didn’t get the grades at age 18 to do law, so instead I did a foundation year which turned out to be the best thing as I realised I really wanted to do politics and history. I found political marketing during my masters at Manchester when discussing how Tony Blair was changing the British Labour Party and life-long Labour voters like my Dad were very unhappy. My lecturer said “what about looking at political marketing”? And off I went…

What is the purpose of your present position  Research wise I explore what goes on behind the scenes by looking at political marketing and public input into government.   I then teach this to my students so they know what’s going on and so they are prepared for the workforce. I see my job as an academic as to conduct high-quality research but to make it useful to the community through applied politics teaching and reporting recommendations for best practice.

What do you love most about your job Challenging conventional wisdom through research into real world practice. One of the key contributions I made early in my career was to argue that political marketing wasn’t just advertising. For my latest research on political leadership I interviewed 50 government ministers and found that they recognise they have limited power and knowledge and need input from the public to create workable policies. I also love the fact I get to travel and meet loads of people around the world. Vote Compass came out of a book I co-edited with Canadian colleagues on Political Marketing In Canada. I was once flown to Malaysia and met the Prime Minister there; and I‘ve done interviews in the White House, Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.

Do you believe what you do changes people’s lives I know I’ve made a big difference in my field. When I started researching political marketing it was ridiculed and seen as just spin-doctoring and adverts. Now it’s viewed as much more ubiquitous: it affects government decision-making and policy and is discussed in the media and in movies. I’ve made that happen not just through my own books (I’ve published 12!) but through supporting and connecting other scholars and linking academia with practice.

What do you do when you’re not working Gardening and my two young children. It’s the same kind of thing as my career really: nurturing potential and seeing it grow.





More great communications advice from Dee Madigan

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I’ve already written a short post about Dee Madigan’s recently published book on politics and communications. Now I’ve also come across a great video of her at a recent United Voice Conference.

In this short video she shares some brilliant communications advice that is important in all progressive contests, not just the fight to protect unions and the workers they represent.

If you are sick of anti-Union media bias, Dee has a simple answer for you. Here’s how you can fight it: Tell everyone you are a union member and tell them why it’s important.

Watch the video. Understand that “Branding” is just a fancy marketing term for “how people perceive you” and Tories will do everything they can to frame progressive organisations negatively, which they do every day through the mainstream media, so called “think-tanks” and the propaganda that passes as government information when Tories are in charge.

Another reason I love Mike Smith’s Blog – it’s real

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My close friends in the Labor Party know that I really like Mike Smith and his blog MikeSmithOnline.


One of the many reasons I like Mike and his blog is that he frequently shares a pearl of campaigning wisdom that, in real life, can take many years and many campaign dramas to learn. Mike was one of many fantastic presenters at the recent 2014 Campaign Management and Political Marketing Workshop which Stephen Mills and Jennifer Rayner organised at Sydney University in July (and which I am still yet to blog about properly – don’t worry, it’s still on my to-do list).

I remember former NSW General Secretary John Della Bosca explaining at a media event that, in real life, it actually takes about 10 years of on-the-job-training in many (both winning and losing) campaigns before a state or territory party branch can confidently say it has “trained up” a competent and professional “Campaign Organiser”. I believe he was correct, give or take a couple of years depending on the intelligence, aptitude and good humour of the trainee. The more experience you have, the less mistakes you will repeat, because some mistakes are inevitable in politics and public life.

Well here is a blog where ANYONE can read and learn some real-life campaigning truisms. And this one is a pearler: Always have a strategy or plan (before you act).

Briefly and wisely, Mike explains: “When candidates are frustrated, deadlines loom, issues are urgent or crises threaten, then it’s so easy to be stampeded into taking quick action – under-planned and under-evaluated action. There’s nearly always time to devise a strategy and plan its delivery.  There’s nearly always time to check whether ideas are truly good or merely appear so, whether they can deliver optimal outcomes, or whether a more considered approach can do better.

You must resist the pressure to start doing things before you have a plan. When you haven’t got the time to plan, you either need a plan in the bottom drawer ready to pull out – because you’ve already prepared a crisis management plan – or you need to find a way to defer the frustration, deadline, urgency or threat – even if it is just for an hour or two.”

It reminded me of another pearl of wisdom that I have often used (most recently in a 125-page ACT Labor Report about the 2012 ACT Election Campaign) which I love to share during training sessions. It’s a friendly warning to future campaign directors and candidates of the harsh judgement that they may be subjected to within the Labor Party, even when they win an election campaign.

To the many “armchair experts” we offer this advice from Theodore Roosevelt: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing”. But for your own sake, at least base your decision on a rational strategy and plan!

And guess what? Occasionally a Campaign Director will make the wrong call! That’s the inevitable consequence of limited resources (time, money, people, information) and the inevitable chaos of a tough campaign. I’ve always quietly laughed at the CVs of professional “Campaign Consultants” (I understand there’s around 30,000 of them in the US) who proudly list all the “winning campaigns” they have worked on. Their CV’s and resumes rarely list “losing campaigns” or even “close calls where we were nipped in the final sprint to the finish”. Clearly they’re not choosing to fight many close or marginal contests. Science tells us if you regularly fight a close contest (i.e. polling around 50/50, give or take a margin of error) you will probably lose 50% of the time.

Anyway, never hang your head in shame if you lose or if you know you gave it your best shot and it still wasn’t enough to please the inevitable critics. Remember this: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if they fail, at least they fail while daring greatly. So that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt