One thing that the change of Labor leadership will do is to bring out a swarm of PR, advertising and marketing types to counsel Labor and the Coalition on precisely what they should do to win.
Some of these types will be hunted down by journalists trying to get: a comment on what works; any suitable grab before deadline; or, a continuation of the Bush-Dukakis media coverage which degenerated into coverage of the campaign mechanics rather than anything else. And some of coverage will be because the PR, advertising and marketing people will be promoting their services and expertise in the belief that media publicity generates business.
An early entrant in the advice field was Jane Caro who was interviewed on the ABC (probably at their request rather than hers) providing some advice to Kevin Rudd. For the interview see:
What the advice seems to consist of is: shift the focus from the Government to the Opposition; address the ‘trust’ question; and, be yourself. Duh! Do people pay for such advice? Intrinsically it is all basically sound but it operates at the sound bite level rather than the strategic level although, admittedly, sound bites are what the ABC wanted. But it is symptomatic of many PR and marketing campaigns in which the strategy is simply a re-statement of the objectives. Thus an objective to persuade some group or other of some thing or other gets translated into a strategy which says we will persuade some group or other of some thing or other. The really clever thing is to answer the ‘how’ question – how do you convert these objectives into effective, and creative, tactical executions. The answer to that question is presumably what Caro or any of us would get paid for. To give an immediate strategic and tactical example though, Rudd is addressing the how of shifting the focus to the Opposition by taking a subtle approach which, rather than just attacking Abbott, seeks to paint him as representative of everything that Australians hate about politicians and politics. As a strategy it takes chutzpah but then Rudd has never been short of that. A parallel to the Rudd tactic is Howard’s campaign against Latham, who do you trust? This was initially counter-intuitive, to put it mildly, but was nevertheless extremely effective.
Meanwhile we are seeing the Coalition adopting one of the most effective practices from US elections early in the campaign. Make a simple ad and put it online and then generate publicity about the ad even if you never intend to give the ad wider distribution. This tactic has been a significant part of US primary campaigns for some time and has spread to election campaigns as well. It is effective because it gets people in the media talking about the issues you want talked about. On the other hand there are some indications from the US that one of the long-time truisms of politics – negative advertising works – might no longer be completely true as the recent US Presidential campaign indicates. Another problem is the ‘inside the Beltway’ mindset of campaigners. Will the advertising featuring Labor people describing Rudd as psychopathic, disloyal and assorted other things work, or will it just be more stuff about political speak which people ignore? And, after all psychopathic behaviour has never been a barrier to short and medium term success in politics, the military or business and winning the next election is very much a short to medium term game.
So whenever the election is actually held the blog and others will be busily standing on the sidelines and interpreting the campaign. Sometimes we might get it right. Sometimes we will just be providing some convenient content. And sometimes we might, if only inadvertently, say something wise. In the meantime the blog is hedging its bets. Last year it had a bet (at four to one odds which looked pretty good in a two horse race) with one of its oldest friends and colleagues. Just this week the blog was about to hand the stake over having decided that the bet was a sure fire loser on the basis of statistical probabilities. Now, there’s no way four to one will be on offer again but perhaps the probabilities are changing again and any settlement might have been a bit premature – however unpalatable the choice between Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott is.