Information Management Gone Wrong: Sex & Politics

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Information Management is an integral part of communication. What is being revealed to the public can mean the difference between a politician’s successful career and an untimely resignation or the climb to Fortune 500 and filing for bankruptcy.

History knows many examples of poor information management, but I’d like to focus on the more recent ones and especially those involving politicians and facilitated by the Internet.

The Internet was nowhere near as powerful in 1998 when Monicagate broke out in the States, leading to the impeachment of President Clinton, and social media was just gaining momentum in 2008 when NY governor Eliot Spitzer resigned in the wake of a prostitution scandal. What those 2 cases have in common is that both politicians were being investigated by federal agencies before being charged, which essentially means that they were way past any hopes of using information management to save their careers. Of course, when their wrongdoings became public, both stories received wide media coverage.

But what do New Jersey Democrat Louis Magazzu, and Congressmen Chris Lee and Anthony Weiner have in common? Their careers ended in the wake of sex revelations on the Internet, and in Weiner’s case – the scandal was made public by a blogger.

Weinergate, as it came to be known, has become somewhat of a case study when it comes to unintelligent use of social media. The former New York representative posted nude pictures on Twitter of all places, and was subsequently forced out of office by Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart.

Lee was also alleged by a blog-like site – Gawker.com – for attempting to seduce a woman on Craiglist by posting shirtless pictures.

And finally, Magazzu lost his job when a rival GOP activist site published naked pictures that he sent to a woman via email.

Now, some would argue that these cases are not representative of information management per se, but in an age when image is increasingly becoming as, if not more, important as policies, perhaps it is worth discussing whether these scandals could have been prevented if more care was taken when these pictures were being disseminated via the Internet. Moreover, what is a conservative blogger and a GOP activist site exposing Democrat politicians if not information management used by a rival political organisation to discredit an opponent?

There is no doubt in my mind that these politicians deserved what they got, but is there something that a PR practitioner could have done to “spin” them out of trouble? The answer is probably “No”, although virtuosos like Alistair Campbell will likely disagree.

Unfortunately, that would only mean that people care more about who slept with whom, rather than the wrongful invasion of a sovereign country.

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Theory Junkie: Political Public Relations

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I’m a sucker for theories and I love talking about them.

In today’s episode of the Theory Junkie, we explore McNair’s definitions of Political PR.

As I mentioned in the last edition of the programme, McNair defines Political Communication as practicing political advertising and PR.

But what is political PR all about?

According to McNair, it is comprised of four pillars: Media Management or Issues Management; Image Management or Political Marketing; Internal Communication, and Information Management.

In the context of Political PR, Media Management “comprises activities designed to maintain a positive politician-media relationship”. Its purpose is to “tap into the needs and demands of the modern media and thus maximise politicians’ access to, and exposure in, free media”. Since media management’s objective is to preserve visibility and showcase political definitions and solutions, it can also be seen as issues management.

Image Management strives to stimulate the public likability of a politician. It has to do with the personal image of a politician, “but also how it can be moulded and shaped to suit organisational goals”. This is why it is also referred to as Political Marketing: “In the area of personal image, modern politicians are judged not only by what they say and do, but how they say and do it”. McNair argues that, much like classic marketing, political communicators “must first establish the ‘core values’ of the party’s target audience, which then become the basis for selling the organisation as the one best able to defend and reflect those values”.

In the context of Political PR, Internal Communication deals with, above all else, uniformity. It is concerned with making sure that all relevant parties “are aware of the message to be delivered at any given time”. Internal Communication ensures that activities are coordinated and the internal political apparatus, be it party- or politician- specific, is effective in managing and transmitting relevant information to functionaries.

Information Management involves “activities designed to control or manipulate the flow of information from institutions of government to the public sphere beyond”. In essence, it is a form of selective information manipulation and an important element in public opinion management. Governments and Oppositions alike make use of this technique with the difference being that a ruling party often restricts and distorts, while an opposition party may look to expose and popularise.

McNair once again provides us with simple definitions that make our heads nod in agreement. These four activities are certainly what politicians are trying to do in their effort to win an election or run a memorable mandate. However, If I have to identify one overwhelmingly important pillar, I would have to choose between Political Marketing and Information Management.

Yes, Political Marketing wins campaigns in our world of celebrity politics, but social media seems to be the one that brings down rulers while at the same time marginalising classic Media Management. As it stands now there seems to be no better vehicle for mass information dissemination than the Internet and while the image of politicians can be boosted immensely through Facebook, the exposure of their failures on Twitter can lead to their resignations the next day.

Theory Junkie: Political Communication

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I’m a sucker for theories and I love talking about them.

In today’s episode of the Theory Junkie, we explore McNair’s definitions of Political Communication.

McNair is the author of the series “An Introduction to Political Communication“.

I was introduced to this author by my course leader Pam Williams during a dissertation seminar. Herself a Political Communication Master, she guided me into essentially juxtaposing my entire dissertation hypothesis with McNair’s work.

In the book’s 2nd edition, we are first given a brief history of political communication in the US. I found that quite interesting. Turns out, it is a spin-off of corporate communication, and much like PR’s own history, it traces its roots back to Ivy Lee and Bernays in the dawn of the 20th century as a means to manage public opinion on war. Interestingly enough, since 1932, PR consultants have held “one or more seats on the central board of virtually every presidential candidate” and with the creation of Campaigns Inc. in 1933, the political communication industry has legitimised itself into being instrumental to every politician’s successful mandate or campaign.

McNair describes two main methods for practicing Political Communication – Political Advertising and Political Public Relations. The core difference between the two, is what McNair refers to as the utilisation of ‘free media’ as means for publicity. Ultimately, McNair’s meticulous explanation of the difference between Political Advertising and PR, narrows down to one underlying aspect – payment for services.

McNair defines Political Advertising as “the purchase and use of advertising space, paid for at commercial rates, in order to transmit political messages to a mass audience”, another important element being that “politicians have complete artistic and editorial control (over the advertisements –Ed)”

Political Public Relations, on the other hand, is centred around the use of ‘free media’, or in other words, media outlets that do not charge for their services, but merely cover the politician or party’s activities. Free media, McNair argues, provides politicians with a platform for “exposure and coverage, without having to pay media organisations for the privilege”. The flip side is that while there is a higher level of authenticity and ‘believability’ in this type of communication because “editorial responsibility is seen to belong with the journalist”, “a politician’s appearance on a news or discussion programme is genuinely outside his or her editorial control”.

Now, these definitions make a lot of sense and are entirely applicable a whole decade since their publication. But of course, we can’t help but ponder what the implications of the Internet revolution are? Today as in 1999, political advertising and PR are equally important to the success of political communication, but whereas millions are spent on TV and radio spots, McNair’s definition of PR as “free of charge” holds true now more than ever with the rise of Social Media.

So the question is, will the Internet, or some part thereof, ever be considered equally fundamental to Political Communication as advertising and PR, or will it forever be considered just a part of the two, or a means to an end?

In practical terms, Obama’s election campaigns have already revolutionised the industry, but I doubt whether the Internet can ever be constrained in academic paradigms that make sense on paper just as they do in practice.

 

Cameron’s Speech on Europe: Analysis

David Cameron

In this post, I offer my analysis of Cameron’s speech on Europe by looking at the two underlying dimensions: communication and politics.

Read about the background to the speech here.

Let us try to draw a comparison with the US. There is a very clear distinction between the tone and use of language compared to President Obama’s speeches: metaphors are rarely used, the pathos and the eye-watering moments are virtually nonexistent. The speech doesn’t necessarily talk to or level with the “folk”, but rather takes the pedestal of authority and somehow conveys a feeling of caring for the nation from higher ground. Gone are the lengthy allegories which go on for 5 minutes before stating a point of policy in one sentence at the very end. The language is fluid, simple and straight to the point, and the text is filled to the brim with policy suggestions. It is almost like a press release. Of course, a speech is a speech, and words such as “positive”, “committed” and “active” are omnipresent and Cameron does very well in raising his voice where it matters while trying his best to walk the fine line between appeasing a domestic public (and party) and avoiding any further alienation of his strategic partners on the continent. In fact, the speech was so ‘British’, it reminded me of an old quote they used to teach us in history class about the mindset of British foreign relations: “We have no eternal allies and no perpetual enemies – our interests are eternal and those interests it is our duty to follow.” – Palmerston.

This simple, age-old approach to international relations literally flows from the very concept of renegotiating Britain’s position in the EU and promising and in/out referendum. It seems to have guided the hand of the Prime Minister the way it has guided his anti-immigration rhetoric in the months following his Europe speech. But what if there is more to that than simply following a good tradition?

In the grand scheme of politics, what truly matters is being in power – that is every party or politician’s ultimate agenda. So let us take a step backwards and try to view this whole ordeal with political strategy in mind: It is mid-term, tensions in the governing coalition are ramping up, there is enormous internal pressure from Tories to change course on Europe, the Eurozone crisis seems to be only deepening with no end in sight, Conservative poll results are down 5% in 2 years, and Labour is up by 7%. Now let’s think what a crisis manager would tell us in a situation like this? “Contain it before it develops into a crisis.” That is why we should not discard the possibility that the speech aims to electrify the Conservative and rightist electorates and attempt to draw from a growing euro-skeptic pool of voters currently cajoled by the UK Independence Party. What is more, in his speech, Cameron promises to organise an in/out referendum only if the Conservative party is voted into power during the next election, and that effectively makes it a part of the Conservative party’s election platform. And yes, there is no shame in thinking or admitting that. Any chance to energise voters pre-election is fair game. Politics is a multifaceted game and every move, especially if it challenges the status quo, is carefully calculated.

Cameron’s speech is certainly not all about poll results, dealing with internal pressure, or trying to increase his party’s chances for success at the next election – it is an excellent, distinctly British speech with some very strong points of policy backed by solid reasoning and great oratory skills. But let us not forget that not everything is what it seems at first glance and while communication professionals can shape words into beautiful form and party officials are the ones that set the ultimate agenda, it is their collaboration that wins elections.

Cameron’s full speech on YouTube.

Cameron’s Speech on Europe: Background

Britain and Europe or Tory and Britain?

The long-awaited speech by British PM David Cameron on the UK’s future in the European Union has finally arrived, and to no critical acclaim.

The build-up to the speech was significant. Both domestically and overseas, politicians and analysts alike have been on their toes for quite a while. Everyone knew that whatever Cameron had in mind for the UK’s future in the Union, it wouldn’t be in the best interest of the European project. That seemed to be the premise all along – Britain’s road-trip in the EU has been rocky from the outset – blocked from ascending by an embittered Charles De Gaulle in 1963, the history of British membership has been marked by opt-outs and disagreements, which have only become sharper with the global financial crisis and the ensuing Eurozone crisis.

First announced in autumn of 2012, Cameron’s speech on Europe was repeatedly postponed in order to avoid clashes with other important events. When Cameron was about to finally deliver in Amsterdam, an international hostage situation involving British citizens broke out in Algeria and forced the Prime Minister into crisis management mode. At long last, Cameron held his speech on 23 January in London, at Bloomberg London’s HQ – a place of growing significance in recent British political history, as pointed out by New Statesman.

One can certainly go to great lengths in discussing all the curious facts surrounding this highly anticipated speech, such as Amsterdam and Bloomberg London as choices of venue, or the intricacies of mid-term timing, the upcoming opening of the labour market to Bulgarians and Romanians in January 2014, or even coalition and in-party disagreements. But what is of more interest to us, is the speech itself.

One indisputable fact that has to be said from the very beginning is that the speech was really good – well-written, well-thought out and with a distinct British flavour for simplicity and straightforwardness. It also has to be said that Cameron’s delivery is sharp and confident, and anyone expecting a King’s Speech moment will be dully disappointed.

Read my analysis of the speech here.

Theory Junkie: Accountability Structure

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I’m a sucker for theories and I love talking about them.

In today’s episode of the Theory Junkie, we explore the Accountability Structure and CSR.

We were introduced to this model during a guest lecture by Michael Hoevel from Glasshouse Partnership.

An old model of relationships between pillars of society in the capitalist world, this paradigm has seen significant developments over the years. While its continuous alteration keeps it relevant, its universal application has come under scrutiny in today’s ever so rapidly changing world.

Classic

The classic interpretation of this model establishes the relationships between the Public Sector, the Private Sector and the Citizens (depicted as Civil Society).

Businesses pay taxes to the government in exchange for regulation, access to the market and protection. The government grants the people representation of their aspirations and public goods such as healthcare and education in exchange for being elected into power. Businesses receive money from society in exchange for products and services they deliver. And in the middle of it all is the Media – standing guard as the fourth pillar of authority, revealing and punishing the untruthful. This is in essence, how our world works. These relationship, whether fair or not, represent how we have come to establish modern civilisation. Of course coffee companies don’t always pay taxes, supermarket chains don’t always deliver beef when they say they do, governments don’t always live up to the expectations of people, and most certainly of all, the media doesn’t always hold true to its role as a guardian of it all. Such is life.

But, as these complex relationships mature, mutations and amalgamations emerge:

Advanced

Instead of having NASA fly space shuttles into orbit, we now have SpaceX, Instead of hoping for salvation to come from the heavens and land in the puddle that we use to wash our clothes in, we now have bankers with Nobel Peace prizes. Instead of relying on the government to safeguard our environment, we have created organisations like Greenpeace and WWF. And instead of hoping that the media will bring justice to the corrupt, some would argue, we now have social media, WikiLeaks and Anonymous.

So where does Corporate Social Responsibility come into these “newborn” categories of NGOs, Public-Private Partnerships and Social Entrepreneurship?

That’s for the communication professionals to decide. CSR is what we say it is. Is advancing space exploration through government contracts not socially responsible? Is lifting millions from poverty through banking not Nobel Peace prize worthy? Is our planet not worth saving? Is the Internet not the ultimate sentinel of human knowledge?

The Accountability Structure does not provide the answer. It simply establishes the framework within which these questions can exist.

How we mould these questions, is what CSR is all about.