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Turnbull/Abbott – Six fundamentals for campaign success

By December 2, 2009 No Comments

It been an hilarious or suicidally depressing week in Canberra (depending on your point-of-view). As Bernard Keane wrote in turnbull spill 2Crikey – Dec 1 the Liberals have discovered “new ways, wholly unexpected ways, to make things ever worse for themselves”.

What Tony Abbott faces seems herculean in its complexity. Can you have predict the fortunes of Tony Abbott?

Tough isn’t it.

More broadly, how do you respond when the Board Chairman turns to you about an issue and asks, “What do you recommend we do?”. Instant response required – you must revert to basic principles. Here’s how we do it…

Six make/break fundamentals in managing issues

1 Strong disciplined leadership. Set a course and don’t sweat the small stuff; when the temperature is turned to red-hot don’t melt; however, be aware that other people will weaken,  so make sure you keep all essential stakeholders travelling with you, which sometimes means slowing down, creating small steps, articulating milestones, etc..
2 Strong messages. Winning messages are built out of solid values, good research and a strong, well thought through strategy (know ahead of time whether your messages are aligned with community values and are likely or not to win the debate).
3 Strong spokespeople. Generally the best spokespeople thrive out front – being a spokesperson is a 24/7 love affair. Especially important when the going gets tough.
4 Keep it simple. PR is already complex enough (media relations, government relations, investor relations, community relations, for starters), and now there are the added demands of online media. However, the simple rules still apply: at least one outstanding key selling point; be reliable, accurate and fair; be ethical, trustworthy, open and above all be honest.
5 Keep it nimble. Be quick to respond. With online media this is more important now than ever. Journalists require it, other stakeholders admire it. ‘The early bird….’ it’s an oldy but it’s true.
6 Keep budgets real. Not too low, not too high. If you’re a consultant be honest with your budget requirements, and open about the way you spend other people’s money – you need your client’s trust. If you are a client, find a consultant you can trust; the survivors in this industry work on fairly tight margins and most can explain the metrics. 

Where Turnbull failed and why Abbott faces such a mammoth task.

Turnbull Abbott
1 Strong disciplined leadership. Didn’t have the skills/patience to keep the essential Liberal stakeholders travelling with him. They pulled the pin. Starting with low morale; party already split. A compromise candidate so disunity a starting point. Deep party divisions on Climate Change. Abbott has to unite.
2 Strong messages. Very clear Global Warming message and in line with community values. If he’s honest his message on climate change is going to be messy and complex.  Kerry O’Brien’s interview last night (Dec 1) exposed a number of them – worth seeing online.
3 Strong spokespeople. People don’t warm to him, but no issue with strength – if this guy says he’s going to do something, you better believe it. In a tough situation (GFC or Global Warming) the public will want this tough-guy approach.  Not warm, but likeable; relates well in small crowds; some commentators say ill-equipped to outdebate Rudd on major crisis issues (like the post GFC economy and Global Warming). Strong personal values is a plus.
4 Keep it simple. Very few people understand the ETS, but yes, Turnbull has a very simple Global Warming message, articulated well over and over. Repetition = penetration = impact. Abbott loses here for the moment. He will need an clear, simple message and at the moment he doesn’t have that.

In  contrast Rudd’s message is v simple. Rudd wins.

5 Keep it nimble. No issue here. Politicians understand the news cycle No issue – always available
6 Keep budgets real. This is Canberra

Despite this disaster, Turnbull will have many supporters – probably even more now, as the unbent loser.

And, you can also see that Abbott is already in trouble. It’s a mountain to climb isn’t it?

Now apply that to your own campaign and see it if works. It’s not a perfect list (over simplification is always flawed) but it works as a starting point.

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