This just in...pollsters get it wrong!

Welcome back!
There's lots to talk about since I last blogged two weeks ago. Laura Peck and I have been busy with the release of the 2012-13 editions of two of our pocket tips books - Overcoming Panic & Fear and Encountering the Media. As well, we've been marking final exams in our Riddell Graduate Program in Political Management course in Strategic Communications. My travels also took me to Cincinnati Ohio for a seminar and I was very impressed with the city and the beauty of its downtown - even nicer than I had remembered it over a decade ago.
However, just in case you thought it's been all work and no play, I did manage to squeeze in four rounds of golf in Ocean City, Maryland with about 40 close friends. My golf game was better than expected - which may not be saying much. Perhaps I benefited from low expectations or just plain luck, but I'll take it anyway!

Which brings me to some comments on issues in the news - north and south of the border.
Alberta Re-Elects the Redford Government:
Pundits and Pollsters Caught Flat-Footed
It was hard to say what was more shocking - Premier Alison Redford and her government getting re-elected or the realization that the pundits and pollsters got it all so wrong in their assessment of the voters.
Four Factors that Re-Elected the Redford Government
How did the Redford campaign do it? There were several factors:
1. Danielle Smith's Wildrose Alliance Party peaked too soon. Following early stumbles by the Redford team out of the gate, the Wildrose campaign found themselves in a front-runner's position. Clearly, they weren't ready for that. They had been trailing the Progressive Conservatives for months, and had more than likely prepped for a come-from-behind kind of campaign. Instead, as front-runners, the swing voter looks at them through a different lens - that is, can they form a credible government? In reverse, the Redford PCs had prepped for a front-runner campaign and within days had to switch to the under-dog role. They pulled that off very well.
2. Wildrose's failure to insulate itself. When several Wildrose candidates were revealed to have made some homophobic and racist remarks, it seems to have under-scored the doubts that the Wildrose Alliance could form a credible and inclusive government. Danielle Smith didn't over-react - and for that she was praised by pundits and media commentators. However, her under-reaction may have been more damaging than she had realized. She needed to insulate her party from those comments, and didn't do so.
3. The fading Danielle Smith and the surging Alison Redford. Danielle Smith was a  strong and powerful communicator throughout much of the campaign. However, as she headed towards apparent victory she went low-profile - failing to reinforce the wavering voters. She needed to confirm the impending buy. In contrast, Alison Redford picked up steam and became stronger and more persuasive as the campaign got closer to the finish line. Even on election day, she put in a grueling multi-stop tour giving the impression that she had the passion and the vision for the job.
4. Know your voter universe. Clearly, Premier Redford had a clear view of her 'voter universe' - moderate Albertans - which seemed for much of the campaign to be too narrow and populated by the NDP and Liberals. Thus, she seemed to leave the right-of-center totally open to the Wildrose Alliance. Yet that gamble paid off hugely. It turned out there was a constituency for the PC Party and she zeroed in on it like a laser.
5. Push back on criticism but get your message out. The Redford campaign took the media hits, editorial and pundit condemnation and polling results in stride. They pushed back hard on criticisms but they kept their focus.

You have to hand it to Premier Redford's campaign team - led by Stephen Carter and Susan Elliott - who proved that if you have a strong leader, a clear strategy, flexibility and skill in execution, you can indeed pull off a victory. Now for those pollsters and pundits who got it so wrong, what have they learned? Inquiring minds want to know.
Ethics and Political 'Scandals'
The Harper government has had a rocky ride in recent months with the management of controversies such as the full costs of the F-35s, the campaign 'robo-calls'm the use of military aircraft etc. The issue for communicators is when do such stories start to cause serious damage to a government's brand?
I appeared Wednesday evening on CTV Power Play with Don Martin, along with fellow panelists, Tyler Sommers of Democracy Watch and Alan Gilmore of St. Paul's University to discuss the ethics and the communications of such controversies.

The real point to be made here is that most governments can survive a number of minor controversies - such as Ministers who spend $1000 on hotel rooms in London (Minister Bev Oda) or (gasp) $16 orange juice and $3000 on limousines and drivers. The key is that it can't look like it's an ingrained pattern in which the Prime Minister or the government don't seem to care. The Harper government is not there yet, but as it came in to power feeding on the public outrage over the Liberals' sponsorship scandal, they have to be 'Caesar's wife' themselves. Did Bev Oda handle it well by apologizing and paying back the hotel upgrade? A day late and half-way didn't quite make the grade and she (and the government) had to do damage control for another day.
Walmart's Ethical Problem
The Sunday New York Times ran a major story detailing a pattern of pay-offs to Mexican officials in the roll-out of Wal-mart stores across that country.  The real damage wasn't so much the pay-offs -which wouldn't shock most people doing business there. It was emails along with former officials detailing that the knowledge and blessing went right to the CEO's office at Wal-mart. They apparently compounded the problem by ignoring advice to get an outside counsel, and instead turned over the internal investigation to one of the execs apparently at the heart of the scandal. So far, CEO Michael T. Duke has not responded.
What happened? The very next day, the share value of Wal-mart dropped over $1 billion! Fortunately for Wal-mart, other media focused on the issue of the pay-offs, rather than on the issue of 'what did the Wal-mart top executives know and when did they know it?'
What should Wal-mart have done? They should have realized they had a significant ethical - and legal - issue which had to be addressed in a transparent and proactive way. Rather than suppressing the internal investigation, they should have blown the whistle on themselves. That - if the story is accurate- didn't happen. 

It was all so preventable. In our '10 Principles of Effective Crisis Communications' (Overcoming Panic and Fear: Risk and Crisis Communications). No. 7 says: "Get all the bad news out at once - "have a bad day". Instead, Wal-mart may well end up with a bad year. 
Newt Gingrich Quits - Finally
Well, after losing the last five primaries to Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich is finally wrapping it up. Now Mitt Romney is turning his attention to positioning himself vs. the President rather than his Republican adversaries. In his early response, he seems to be satisfied with just criticizing Obama. However, he needs to define himself in a positive, meaningful way that connects with voters. If he can't do that, all the anti-Obama talk just appeals to the core supporters. How does he get to the swing voter? The middle ground? The jury is still out on that.
Obama Slow Jams with Jimmy Fallon
The fusion of politics and entertainment - kissing cousins since the days of Sinatra and Kennedy; Ronald Reagan and...Ronald Reagan; Bill Clinton and Arsenio Hall - is now complete with President Obama's appearance on Jimmy Fallon the other night. It was no doubt successful in connecting with young voters. Will it hurt him among older, swing voters? Has it all gone too far? you be the judge

Win a free copy of the 2012 edition of either Encountering the Media® or Overcoming Panic and Fear! Simply email us your name, contact information and name of organization to info@mcloughlinmedia.com and indicate which 2012 edition pocket tips book you would like to win. We will put the names in a hat and draw the winner. A $25 value!

Until next time....


With Santorum gone, what does it mean?

Welcome back!
It's been a much longer time than usual since our last post. Laura and I have been on the road virtually every week doing seminars. In this past month we've been to Charleston SC (heaven!); Philadelphia, New York, and several other business-related jaunts have kept us insanely busy. In between, I've been mad at work on the final edits on the 2012-13 editions of our first two Communicate with Power pocket tips books. I received the first copy of Overcoming Panic and Fear: Risk and Crisis Communications today.

The Launch of 2012-13 Edition: 'Overcoming Panic and Fear: Risk and Crisis Communications'
The look on my face in this picture is one of R-E-L-I-E-F. It's been a long time coming and we will be shipping out the pocket tips to our clients starting tomorrow. It's packed with 150 pages of strategies, tactics and skills to communicate effectively about issues of risk, and in emergencies and crises. If you want to know more about it click on:  http://mcloughlinmedia.com/our--new-pocket-tips-s268.php or drop me an email at barry@mcloughlinmedia.com and we would be happy to tell you all about it.

How Does Mitt Romney Spell Relief?
Speaking of relief, I'm sure that Mitt Romney must be relieved now that Rick Santorum has pulled the plug on his campaign. Not because he feared losing to him, but by pulling out, he just saved Romney's campaign a ton of money and more negative ads firing at a fellow Republican.
What can Romney do to close the gap?
Leaving aside the 'Etch a Sketch' controversy generated by his communications aide [in which he said that Romney could wipe the policy slate clean in September], he does have to pivot cleanly over to the issues that will give him a shot at the Presidency in November. He has to remember that an incumbent President must be voted out of office as the electorate rarely votes in a new President. Think of Jimmy Carter vs. Ronald Reagan or George Walker Bush vs. Bill Clinton. Those were classic cases of voting out the incumbent.
So here is what Romney has to accomplish in the next seven months:
1. Don't try a Game Changer as John McCain did with Sarah Palin. [Great HBO movie by the way]. Besides the electorate can smell a desperate ploy and will run for the exits should Romney try one of those.
2. Pick a running mate who can help him - such as Florida's Senator Marco Rubio who could reach the Catholic and Latino voter more effectively than Romney; or a woman VP candidate such as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley who would be critically important to help close the gender gap. The key today for a strong VP candidate is someone who can not only bring home their state's electoral college votes, but more importantly make a big dent in a much-needed demographic group.
3. Focus the ballot question on the President's handling of the economy. Avoid making it nasty and personal. Contrast in positive terms how he would fix the economy and getting it moving again - with jobs as the focus. As the economy improves, however, it will make it harder to tag President Obama with it.
4. Romney needs to re-define himself from being the Wall Street 'loves to fire people' guy into a person who will fight for the American workers and small-business owners. His difficulty in handling his own personal narrative and family wealth have helped define him as the 'voice of the 1%'.
5. Get rid of the over-rehearsed awkward efforts at connecting with people. He needs to convey a credible sense that he gets what real families are going through and reach them with a message that they care about.To this point, he has trouble doing that.
6. He needs to heal the very deep wounds of the primary season, pull them together and get them to work with enthusiasm for his victory. When you spend a year making huge negative ad buys on your fellow Republican candidates, that will be incredibly difficult. He needs to build on the base - not pander to it.
7. He has to run a great fall campaign, win the debate with Obama, improve his 'earned media' campaign and try to avoid the verbal gaffes that have plagued his nomination battle. A tall order to say the least!
Ultimately, Romney's challenges seem almost insurmountable, but as both he and Barack Obama know, seven months is a lifetime in politics.
The Canadian Government's F-35 Procurement Controversy
The Harper government has been struggling to put a controversy behind it concerning what it knew-and when it knew it -  about the real costs of the development and procurement of a fleet of fighter aircraft to replace the F-18 fleet which is getting closer to its 30 year life-span. The Opposition parties have tried to define the issue as 'mis-leading Parliament' while the government has tried to put the issue behind it by acting immediately to respond to the recommendations of the Auditor General. Who will win the 'battle of the issue'? It all depends on how engaged the public becomes and what they think of the whole matter. I commented on the public's perception of the issue on CTV's PowerPlay along with pollster Nik Nanos.
The NDP's New Leader Sets Out to Define Himself
The rule of politics is 'define yourself before your opponents do' and no party has been better at that than the Conservative Party under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Thanks to the successful 2011 election campaign led by the late Jack Layton, the NDP has found itself the Official Opposition with the Liberals under interim leader (and former NDP Premier) Bob Rae filling the void during the NDP leadership race as the 'real' Opposition.
So the NDP have leapt quickly to define Thomas Mulcair (now known as 'Tom') - their new leader - by launching a series of television ads. I appeared on Tuesday night on CTV's PowerPlay with Don Martin and former NDP Communications Director Brad Lavigne to discuss their effectiveness. My conclusion was that it wasn't a bad start but it needs to be better executed and he needs to show he can connect with voters.
Remembering Mike Wallace
And finally, the passing of Mike Wallace, a true broadcasting legend, was noted by many news outlets this week. Wallace was a one-of-a-kind news man whose sixty year career - including four decades on 60 Minutes - made a very powerful contribution to news and current affairs. I couldn't help but think of the times that Laura and I would see him on Main Street of Vineyard Haven - usually he had just finished a tennis match or was lining up for a coffee in the deli.

The first time we had met him was at a talk he gave in Edgartown at the Old Whaling Church in which he recapped his career - complete with terrific video clips from 60 Minutes. I asked him, "if a CEO were about to be interviewed by you, what would you advise?" I'll never forget his answer: "I would advise that person to get media training. You know, there are people who specialize in that? I spend my whole career interviewing so it's not a level playing field."
Afterwards, Laura and I came up and I sheepishly introduced myself as a media trainer and we had a chuckle and a nice chat about that. Laura brought up a recent situation with him about a government agency that had refused to speak with him about a controversial issue. She wanted to know how he felt about their refusal to talk to him - in which they had ultimately ordered him off the property?
"We always had a great relationship and they had received great coverage from us over the years", he told her, just shaking his head, genuinely mystified at their treatment of him. That strategy not only failed to get the Agency's message out, it effectively shut their message out of the program totally. He revealed that he had been a Communications Officer in the Navy and knew that their refusal to cooperate made his item one-sided and he didn't understand how media relations professionals would not realize that.

His warmth and charisma were powerful to behold - on television and in person and, although he has had many imitators, he was a true original.

Until next time.....