Friday 17 July 2015

Alastair Campbell gives a masterclass

You spin me right round baby, right round / Uni of Salford Press
His surprising model for communications

Alastair Campbell, who was British Prime Minister, Tony Blair's right hand man, arrived at the European Communications Summit in Brussels to give a masterclass in the art of getting your message across.

In his address he accused the media of being focused on the negative and said that there had been a sea change in the media landscape that made the model, pioneered by himself and Lord Mandelson, out of date. He introduced himself modestly, "I'm the guy who was in charge of Blair's press relations and had the worst reputation, being somewhere between asylum seekers and mass murderers." The world of media had changed beyond recognition, he said, leaving financial institutions, politicians and others, feeling that they no longer had control.

Campbell said that we live in "a game changing moment that will change the world forever.  We live in a world defined by the pace of change. The communicators are not in control." adding that business people and politicians had to accept that the outside world often upset their agenda, citing the financial crisis and British Petroleum. In the latter case, he said that, "BP is a successful oil company, gets involved with a crisis and the communications have not been very good and the crisis they are in has been exacerbated by the poor communications."

The new media was also having an effect, according to Campbell, there are "120, million blogs. most will be read by author and few friends. Some will connect and become part of media landscape, as important as newspapers." This was also been shown by recent events, such as the protests in Iran over the recent election and more recently in China, "Iran; most of  us followed that, not with conventional media, I followed on twitter". He said that "one big change is advent of the internet. This means that any organization or individual can have a stake and impact on how that organization is seen. a lot of organizations have not responded well."

In contrast, Campbell expressed his contempt for the traditional media who he repeatedly criticised for "being negative" and described as, "judgemental and aggressive" and saying that this was a worldwide trend, where journalists, often under the influence of proprietors, focused on negative reporting, often with a political agenda.

Political communication

In the political sphere, he praised the Obama Presidential campaign, saying that it "bypassed traditional media to turn people into activists and then empower them to campaign." He also had warm words of praise for President Bill Clinton, who he said was the master strategist.

He did note some changes in the recent British election, especially when the traditional method of campaigning, the political billboard campaign failed to work as before. Campbell noted that, "the Tories spent a lot of money and it went down a black hole because the internet was totally defacing the meaning on them. Thousands of spoof versions appeared that the public preferred." He cited the example of the Conservative poster featuring David Cameron and the slogan, 'We can't go on like this', saying as soon as it appeared a spoof version was produced that added the line, 'with suspicious minds', turning the poster into an Elvis song lyric. He added that, "people were waiting for the response when new poster came out. I think we've seen the end of the traditional political poster."

As an example of a strategic failure he gave Senator McCain's Presidential election campaign as an example, "His message was that he represented experience and that he wasn't George Bush. He was going along quite well, Obama was doing reasonably, then he brought in Sarah Palin. Tactically it was good, people loved it, but strategically it was a disaster. He was saying, I'm not George Bush but my number two is George Bush in a skirt with lipstick."

Britain and Europe

Asked by New Europe, about how well he had communicated Europe, he replied, "Not as well as we would have liked.  There were all sorts of reasons. Some cultural, some to do with the media. The one area, unlike the Tories, who have done some, well, not deals, but some close business there, but I do think we never did policy deals with media organizations to get their support, but we didn't challenge the mainly eurosceptic media as much as we should. when we tried it just became one of those thing where we said let's just park it for a while. I don't think we were successful in explaining Europe as an economic as opposed to political entity."

When it came to communicating, he said that, "the Queen is very popular and has never given an interview, so that's a model..."

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