The art of politics, the art of communication, Part 3

As the Australian Federal Parliament enters its final week before the Federal Election (still scheduled for September 14th, but who knows in this climate) let’s consider again how the players have made their plays and communicated their positions since my last blog post on this.

On communications, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has maintained a dogged strategy of seeking to claim the high ground (in her mind at least), concentrating on policy, government and selected pot-shots at the Opposition.

The latest polls indicate this hasn’t worked. And this presents the communicator’s dilemma: change tack mid-programme, or keep going to defend a position, a dilemma because either choice has risk.

It also represents the importance of hooking a communications strategy to a business (in this case, political) strategy: defining clearly what is being sought and how success is measured. For Julia Gillard presumably it will be either whether or not Labor is re-elected (unlikely according to everyone) or the size of the defeat.

For Opposition leader Tony Abbott the strategy seems clearer (and of course he has the advantage of not leading a party riven by dissent): at the start of the year he changed tack to focus less on the negative and more on making cut-back policy statements, and has stuck to this strategy with some success.

On the plays being run by each side, the analysis is interesting. Gillard is relying on a sequence of Red Herrings (the luring of an opposing player away from the point), Deflects (the evasion of a point), Lanterns (the preemptive disclosure of bad news) and Discos (concession on a specific point to be able to move a large discussion forward).

Abbot is relying mostly on Call-Outs (indignation at the opponent), Challenges (calling on an opponent to modify its stance) and Fiats (declarations of policy).

On the Playmaker Standard Table of Influence, the risk-reward balance sheet looks like this:

Red Herring: High Risk/Medium Reward
Deflect: Medium Risk/Low Reward
Lantern: Medium Risk/High Reward
Disco: High Risk/Medium Reward
Total risk score: 10. Total rewards score: 8.

Call-Out: High Risk/Medium Reward
Challenge: Low Risk/High Reward
Fiat: Low Risk/Low Reward
Total risk score: 5. Total reward score: 6.

(For more, go to the Glossary of Influence Plays and track down to the bottom of the chart.)

In short: Abbott is calling one play less than Gillard, and is scoring 75% of her reward for just 50% of her risk. He can afford to.

As to Kevin Rudd’s plays, they are all high-risk/high-to-medium reward: the Peacock, the Call-Out and the Bait, all aimed internally; and the Label and the Filter (the reinterpretation of a position to suit his own ends) externally to the voters.

The consequence is that, overall, there are two sets of Plays being run from the same organization.  They don’t mesh, they are from different ends of the Playmaker’s Standard Table of Influence, and so they create a dissonance in the ear of the audience (the voter) that is reflected in every opinion poll.

It’s a case study in how important a consistent position, consistently communicated, is, and how a well-planned strategy of plays and positions can create a bed-rock for success.

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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