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.
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.
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
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.
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
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Until next time....