Gillard v. Rudd: who communicated most effectively?


Now it’s all over (at least for now) I wanted to make some observations about the communications strategies used byAustralia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and the former Foreign Minister, and her predecessor as PM, Kevin Rudd.

(For those of you living overseas, lucky you, but here’s the synopsis: late last week Kevin Rudd resigned as Foreign Secretary while on an official visit to the United States, flew back to Australia, and precipitated a ballot for the leadership of the Australia Labor Party, and the office of Prime Minister. Julia Gillard ousted Rudd in June 2010 as PM.)

Much has been written over the past five days about the personal and political motivations for all of this.  I’ll restrict my comments solely to communications: how effective were each of them, who were they seeking to talk to and influence, did they succeed?

And reflecting on this, the six themes I set out in an earlier blog post seem to answer the questions. Knowing that Julia Gillard beat Kevin Rudd in the LaborParty Caucus vote by 71-31, here are my observations.

Be clear, concise, cogent, and often: neither person did this. Kevin Rudd is known for doing two things in particular: using arcane English and going into too much detail. Being able to summarise is not patronising an audience, it’s staying relevant and meaningful (and interesting). The point of all this is to carry the argument, to win. He didn’t. Julia Gillard is more concise, but suffers from seemingly not understanding how to repeat important messages as often as is required.

Everyone can be your ambassador and advocate: both did this effectively, each with their coterie of supporters and commentators. This was especially true for Rudd, who resigned and then got on a plane to return toAustralia. He had to rely on his ambassadors.

But there’s one other point to be made: it’s not clear what happens to the ‘losing’ advocates. Being an advocate requires total commitment. You can’t be partially pregnant.  Better to work at having a single position, so that the whole team can then act as one set of advocates.

Create value, then help people find it: both did this reasonably well. Problem is, they are both from the same political party, and both serve in the same government! To be truly effective you must have a cohesive, integrated position. As to helping people find it, we seem to have learnt more about why Julia Gillard moved on Rudd two years ago in the past five days than we have in the preceding 20 months. This is not helping people understand things.

Communications move too quickly – learn how to let go: I think both Gillard and Rudd understood this. In any case, the ballot moved at its own pace, and reminds us that the news and market environments set the speed limits, not you.

Emotion and facts: once Rudd had resigned, both could speak freely about the other. Much of this was raw, but it was certainly emotional, and was more effective as a result. Both went into the facts in more detail than perhaps we cared for, and that blunts the emotion after a while. One ‘side’ (Rudd’s) is now emotionally bruised by the experience. Once again, to us outsiders it seems extraordinary that the one organisation should choose to act in this way in public. We can try to make sure that our teams are in synch.

Never forget the financial objective: in this case, both did. Neither should be the enemy of the other. That’s the Opposition’s role. It seems extraordinary that Labor might have any chance of winning the next Australian Federal Election, due in 2012. The fundamental financial (political, in this case) objective was forgotten in that uniquely Labor scenario of factions and individuals seeking to prevail over others. This tenet also embraces the concept of knowing who you need to speak to. Rudd addressed the Australian voting public. They preferred him overwhelmingly. Problem was, the voting public didn’t make the decision. It was the Labor Party Caucus. Gillard understood this, and spoke to them. She won.

In business (or politics) all of the fundamental strategies that are summarised in these six tenets need to be in place, or under control, so that the communications programmes can then take the story and the messages to those you seek to influence, to win the argument and win the day. As we’ve seen, it doesn’t work if they aren’t.

For background (for those not living in Australia) read smh.com.au or theaustralian.com.au, or watch or listen to abc.com.au.

For background on Kevin Rudd, read David Marr’s essay in the Quarterly Essay.

For my own contemporaneous analysis of last Friday’s media announcements by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, using the Playmaker’s Standard, read my guest blog at plays2run.com.

About alansmithoz

Head of Strategic Business Communications at Australian social analytics technology company Digivizer, with a background in corporate public relations and marketing. I do what I do because I believe communications can make a difference.
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