Archive for the 'Campaigning' Category

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The search for the answer to Labour’s woes

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

What happens when the focus is on “knocking on doors”

John Prescott’s view that Jeremy Corbyn and his top team are “not up to the f***ing job” which earned him a “potty mouth Prescott” headline  in the Mail on Sunday won’t have come as surprise to the Labour leader.

I understand that the former deputy Prime Minister has said as much to Corbyn’s face. “You’re not a leader and you never will be while you’ve got a hole in your backside” is the former deputy Prime Minister’s (slightly bowdlerised) comment to the leader. This is despite the fact Lord Prescott backed the Corbyn’s re-election last year because he didn’t think he’d been given enough time to prove himself and his journalist son, David, is Corbyn’s speech writer.

Prescott undoubtedly speaks for the vast majority of Labour MPs and peers. What’s interesting, though, is how few are speaking out. More than one MP has said to me “I’m biting my tongue”. The word has gone round that silence is a powerful weapon in undermining the under-performing leader. One of the lessons of the second leadership contest was that criticism by MPs was counter-productive, feeding Momentum efforts to depict Corbyn as a martyr.

It means that Corbynistas have been operating in a vacuum in seeking to excuse the leader for the Copeland disaster. One of the more plausible efforts has come from Kate Osamor, the shadow International Development Secretary in a Huffington Post Interview in which she highlights the “neglect” of many safe Labour seats by long-serving MPs.

Rather than blaming Corbyn, she says, MPs should follow his example and get out on to the doorstep of how to win. “All MPs have to be knocking on doors, at least once a week, for an hour … Jeremy is out in his own constituency. He still knocks on doors”

Incidentally, Theresa May is also a great canvasser according to David Runciman in his LRB review of Rosa Prince’s biography of the Prime Minister. “Canvassing – whether in local or national elections – remains her preferred way of doing politics. Given the chance, she will still knock on doors, even now she is prime minister.”

But there is a flaw in Osamor’s “get knocking” prescription as a remedy for Labour’s woes, says London Assembly member Tom Copley.

    Most MPs are out on the doorstep regularly, which is in part how they know Jeremy is so unpopular with voters.

The point is underlined by Professor Glen O’Hara of Oxford Brookes University. He calculates that on the day Corbyn relaunched his leadership early in the New Year the Tory poll lead “was 11.8% (six-poll average). It now stands at 16.5%.”

The label “bed blocker” has been pinned on the Labour leader by David Cowling, former head of research at the BBC. The subtle point is that people become bed blockers in the NHS through no fault of their own. They are in a place they don’t want to be — but they need help to get out of their predicament. The question is who will help Jeremy escape from a job he never wanted and which is causing misery for him and his Labour “family”? John Prescott has done his bit.

Don Brind



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Maybe next time the Tories will have to emulate the GE2015 EdStone to show they’ll honour manifesto commitments

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

OmNICshambles, like the LDs tuition fees pledge, will be remembered

The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has been in full defensive mode as he has sought to fight off the criticism that his National Insurance changes for the self-employed are in breach of a GE2015 Conservative manifesto pledge.

His responses that this just applied to one form of NIC charges really didn’t resonate and he’d be well advised to find another way of dealing with the attacks.

What is surprising is that this wasn’t anticipated. The way the Tories used the threat of increased National Insurance contributions against LAB at the last election is all on the record and cannot easily be airbrushed out.

The problem at the next election is that the blue team is going to be pressed even further on any manifesto commitments that they make and this one will be thrown back at them.

Maybe there was something in Ed Miliband headstone plan that was, as we can all record, going to be placed in the garden at 10 Downing Street, as a way of saying that they’ll keep their promises.

One thing’s for sure Cameron/Osborne would not have made this mistake.

With the second BREXIT bill defeat in the Lords, the sacking of Michael Heseltine and the reception the budget has got this has probably been the worst week of Theresa May’s government.

Mike Smithson




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As the EURef poster campaigns are about to start Roger evaluates their effectiveness

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

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Tory poster from GE2015 campaign

Hit Hard Hit Fast and Keep Hitting’ (Jeremy Sinclair, Saatchis)

Ernest Hemingway believed the best thing he ever wrote was a six word advert “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn”. You can understand why a novelist might be happy with such an effective use of six words. If he’d spent his time in advertising he might have honed his technique further and managed something equally effective but using only three. “Beanz Meanz Heinz”.

After several weeks waiting for the Local and Mayoral elections the REFERENDUM has finally reached the top of the list. While LEAVE are still hitching their wagon to Boris REMAIN are onto their second agency.

After designing the logo and overseeing the launch Adam and Eve have been replaced by the Saatchis. Whether this is the campaign moving to a more aggressive phase or whether it was planned all along I don’t know. What we do know is it signals a change of tone. It could be that a more vigorous than expected start from ‘Vote LEAVE’ panicked them into action.

The Saatchis have a reputation for confrontational campaigns.

    Posters are particularly good for setting the agenda. Their value is multiplied several times by free exposure in the press and TV. The most effective often involve finding a flaw in your opponent then lampooning them with humour.

TBWA did one for Labour in which William Hague morphed into Maggie. ‘Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid’. You could almost hear Tory voters saying ‘I wish’. The same agency was responsible for the ‘Fagin’ posters and the infamous ‘flying pigs’.

Though they didn’t intend to be racially offensive a clever rebuttal made them not only ineffective but damaging to Labour. Even without the controversy they would have failed. Michael Howard was never a Fagin – Bill Sykes perhaps – he didn’t have the guile or pathos. As for flying pigs… it’s doubtful many knew who Letwin was let alone what his flight of fantasy was supposed to be. And they weren’t funny.

The Saatchis for the Tories had a better track record. Their iconic ‘Labour isn’t Working’ was ingenious on every level. Ed Miliband in Salmond’s pocket was also a hit. A captivating image of an enfeebled Miliband answerable to Salmond struck a chord and pointed to the chaos that was likely to follow.

‘Labour’s policy on Arms’ with a soldier holding his hands up was an advertising classic. Witty but brutal.

‘Demon eyes’ failed because it broke the golden rule. The public didn’t believe ‘Bambi’ Blair was a demon. Knowing that Saatchi research thoroughly I can only think their focus groups were exceptionally far-sighted. Another Saatchi failure was ‘Are You Thinking What We’re Thinking’. Too much Orwellian Big Brother for British tastes but a good example of a poster campaign setting the agenda.

Visible work so far has been limited. REMAIN used some surviving second world war veterans who in a scripted piece to camera told us they’d fought the war to bring Europe closer together. LEAVE did a vox pop on whether £350 million a week was better spent on Europe or the NHS. Both preaching to the converted. Unlikely either would sway the undecideds.

Hitler made another appearance. Being Boris it’s unlikely to have consequences but it does point to the dangers of being too dependant on a single loose cannon and particularly when it drowns out more sober commentators.

The next few weeks are likely to see more organised activity from both sides and an appointment from LEAVE will hopefully lead to a more focussed campaign.

Roger has worked in advertising for all his career



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The big EURef advertising news is that the Saatchis are back

Friday, May 13th, 2016
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Saathci & Saatchi ad GE1979

Roger’s latest advertising commentary on the campaign

‘Facts aren’t important. What matters is what the public believes’

I noticed last week that Peter Marsh had died. He was a larger than life self publicist and showman and unlike most advertisers who believed in letting their work sell the agency he believed that selling himself sold the work. A big fan of Thatcher his agency was the fastest growing in the 80’s. His ads were recognisable by a catchy jingle and a showy campaign. ‘Gotta Lotta Bottle’, ‘It’s the Wonder of Woolies,’ ‘Harp Stays Sharp’ were all the work of Allen Brady Marsh.

He famously invited the board of British Rail to his agency for a pitch. When they arrived they found ashtrays overflowing a stained carpet and a receptionist filing her nails. After being kept waiting half an hour Marsh appeared  and told them that now they knew what it felt like to be a British Rail customer…..they won the account and ‘The Age of the Train’ had arrived.

As Prime Minister and someone well versed in the silky skills of advertising many had high hopes for Cameron’s leadership of REMAIN. A well-planned and researched campaign was the least they expected. So it was something of a surprise when we awoke last Sunday to headlines that looked like an ad for ‘Dr Strangelove’.

Where were Adam and Eve/DDB during this fiasco?

…..being replaced by the Saatchis. The team that produced thirty years of negative campaigns for the Tories are back together. No wonder LEAVE looked shell-shocked, accusing ITV of being REMAIN’s stooges. The Saatchis can have that effect.

The reasons for the Saatchi involvement isn’t just for old times sake (a £7,000,000 spend is small beer). An IPA poll found that 88% of advertisers support REMAIN with only 4% supporting  LEAVE so concern for their clients may also have been a factor.

And then there’s Boris. Another larger than life showman who believes selling himself is the way to sell his campaign. On message/Off message doesn’t apply when HE is the message. His whistle stop tours are sell-outs but successful campaigns need USP’s more than a performance. No one seems to know where he’s been getting advice but so much dependance on one personality seems a very risky strategy.

REMAIN’s most obvious assets are LEAVES unanswered questions. ‘What would happen next? Who would be ruling the country after the vote? Which of the rainbow coalition would we want as our new Prime Minister? What would the upheaval be?

LEAVE have immigration and a sense that the EU are in a mess. Nigel Lawson claimed a vote for REMAIN was to risk 77 million Turks at our border. It sounded far-fetched but the gasps from the Question Time audience were real.

Very few of these arguments are cutting through and that’s why they need professionals. It’s what they’re good at. There’s an old saying that trying to sell without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you’re doing but no one else does.

Roger has been a regular poster on PB since 2004



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The BREXIT referendum: Roger’s latest update on what’s happening in the PR/Ad industry

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

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“Political advertising ought to be stopped. It’s the only dishonest advertising left.” (David Ogilvy, 1965)

The last few weeks have proved him right. It’s been a free-for-all. Every claim more outlandish than the last. Every rebuttal more hyperbolic. Then last Thursday Vote Leave were appointed lead campaign, the two slogans BRITAIN STRONGER IN EUROPE and TAKE CONTROL were revealed and everyone settled down…

REMAIN are now working with Adam and Eve/DDB. LEAVE have appointed several regional PR companies primarily to arrange Boris’s whistle-stop tours. Ominously all but two have asked that their names not be published. The lack of central control is showing and REMAIN seem much the better organised.

The first week has seen the two forces assembling and there’s no doubt the bigger guns have been piling in behind REMAIN.

The first significant engagement happened on Monday. Osborne announced that leaving would cost £4,300 per household. Unlike most of his flights of fancy this has been a difficult one for LEAVE to bat away. Osborne is still Chancellor and the figures were the work of Treasury civil servants. For Tory LEAVERS to dismiss them as confected is to belittle their own government’s credibility. Despite many crying foul I sense he’s landed a blow. Maybe the first.

Today we can expect the second. A celebrity endorsement of such enormity it would make Adidas blush. REMAIN have bagged the most famous man in the world.

Celebrity endorsement can turn the fortunes of a product in the flutter of an eyelash. Think Nicole Kidman, Gary Lineker, George Clooney, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Peter Kay….. The chances are you’ll think of the product they’ve endorsed before you remember their daytime job. Kate Middleton turned around the fortunes of Reiss by just getting dressed in the morning. The public love celebrity and women are twice as likely to buy after a celebrity endorsement than men…..

…but this is a politician talking politics and people don’t love politicians. What’s more a foreign politician involving himself in another country’s affairs is rarely appreciated and has been known to galvanise an opposition.

Nonetheless he’s popular and attention grabbing and unlike a domestic politician some will see him as an honest broker. There will also be a reluctance on the part of LEAVE to be too outspoken about our closest and most powerful ally so despite some huffing and puffing LEAVE’s response will probably be muted.

LEAVE too have been rolling out the celebs. As we saw in Scotland the side offering change is seen as the active option so little surprise Sol Campbell and Ian Botham have chosen to bat for LEAVE. What they intend to bring to the party isn’t yet known but there was some consternation in Scotland when Botham referred to England as ‘an island.’

And then there’s Boris. He has become LEAVE’s figurehead. As the most charismatic figure on the LEAVE side he seems like an obvious choice. I’m not so sure. A campaign figurehead needs credibility as much as charisma and with even his own family doubting his motives that’s not his strong suit. But then… as five times more people read the headline than read the copy, perhaps they’ve got it right.

We’ll probably get some clues after we’ve seen the ‘Obama Effect’.

Roger, who has had a long and successful career in advertising has been posting on PB since 2004



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The BREXIT Referendum: The advertising industry is under starters orders

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

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PB’s Roger on the coming battle

Advertising agencies are like lawyers. They’re whores. They can be pitching for the anti smoking account at the same time as they’re shooting the new Hamlet commercial. Think what would have happened in 1979 if Labour had called the Saatchis first. We wouldn’t have had ‘LABOUR ISN’T WORKING’ and the former Tory Party chairman might now be a Labour peer.

So when I heard Adam and Eve/DDB were handling the REMAIN account it struck me as a fortunate coincidence. Their chief exec James Murphy had written a piece in ‘Campaign’ long before their appointment headlined ‘Adland needs to wake up to the dangers of Brexit.

He wrote “Anyone in business and particularly anyone in in this business should be supporting the “IN” vote. The reasons are overwhelming…” A long list of persuasive facts followed. Plenty of appeals to the head but it ended on a more emotional note, “Our agencies are held up as the best in Europe. A retreat from the bloc would create more subtle and emotional damage to our industry. Many continental clients believe we are creative, cosmopolitan and open to the world. If we vote out and go off in an isolationist sulk, that sentiment could turn.”

Meanwhile Dominic Cummings, Campaign Director of ‘VOTE LEAVE’, sent an email to several  agencies which simply said “We need an agency to help us spend 7 million quid. If interested let’s talk”. Intriguing as this invitation sounds ‘VOTE LEAVE’ hasn’t yet been appointed lead campaign. That’s being decided on Thursday.

By all accounts he has reason to be optimistic and perhaps with a hint of things to come he’s already dismissing his competitor “GRASSROOTS OUT’ as “The George Galloway Campaign”

It’s said there are only two strategies in political campaigning ‘It’s time for a change’ and ‘it’s not time for a change’ with the status quo believed to have a marked advantage.

In an interview with the Economist Cummings compares REMAIN to being locked in the boot of a car heading off to a place that we can’t see and where we know we don’t want to go. He uses the strap line ’Take control’. He says he wants this to be the theme of the LEAVE campaign.

An audacious attempt to paint LEAVE as the safer option and REMAIN as the risky gamble.

Will it work? That’s what the agency with the ‘7 million quid’ of new billing will have to find out. But it’s very smart.

What will these agencies do with their millions of quids?

Some eye catching posters for sure but that’s just the start. They’ll be expected to deliver a coherent message that gets all parties pulling in the same direction. With so many disparate groups on each side, particularly the LEAVERS it’ll take some doing.

The messages will have to be simple clear and memorable. They will have to try to convince the voters that their argument is in tune with their core values and that the alternative poses a risk. A negative campaign doesn’t have to be dull. ‘Labour Isn’t Working’ was voted by ‘Campaign’ the best poster of the last century. The two chosen advertising agencies are being offered an enormous shop window.

I doubt making the EU exciting is what this campaign is going to be about but remember the first rule of copywriting.

People don’t need a drill they need a hole.

Roger, who has had a long and successful career in advertising has been posting on PB since 2004



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Don’t you wish that this is how we should do politics in the UK?

Saturday, November 7th, 2015

Mike Smithson





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Lynton Crosby could do it again next week and give the Tories outright power on a third of the vote

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

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Or will the “good guys” win this time?

Canadians go to the polls next week in an election that has echoes of the British General Election in May – the most intriguing being the involvement of Lynton Crosby.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper hopes the Australian can repeat what he did for David Cameron — magic an outright victory in an election where the Tory poll numbers have been limping along in the low thirties.

That was how the final polls looked in Britain. The Tories famously confounded the pollsters by taking 37% of the vote on May 7th but Cameron’s overall majority owed more to the Crosby’s ruthless targeting of marginal Labour and Lib Dem seats. The way it was done was gloatingly chronicled in Conservative Home.

The Canadian Tories are doing even worse than their British counterparts. There’s dire news for Harper in the latest tracker polling which has him trailing the Liberal Justin Trudeau by seven points. Labour’s sister party the NDP is in the mid 20s and could hold the balance of power.

The NDP, whose leader Tom Mulcair sports a Corbynesque beard, have been the official opposition since 2011 when they made sweeping gains from the Liberals and from the Bloc Quebecois. They have slipped back into third place – the main casualties of Harper playing the Islamaphobia card. The Tory campaign has put the migrant crisis and the case of a Muslim woman who insists on her right to wear the niqab veil at the centre of their campaigning.

According to the Guardian, Harper’s success with anti-Muslim politics dates from Crosby’s arrival. “His presence in Canada first became apparent during a debate in which Harper appealed for the votes of what he called “old-stock Canadians” – a novel phrase that struck a deliberately discordant note in the typically inclusive chorus of Canadian multiculturalism.”

It’s an example of Crosby’s “dead cat strategy”, according to Macleans. If you are losing an argument, as Harper is over the economy, you throw a dead cat on the table – an eye catching emotional issue that grabs voters attention. Everyone starts talking about the cat and forgets the main issue.

A Globe and Mail commentator suggests Harper didn’t need much prompting to exploit Islamophobia. Whether or not it was prompted by Crosby, the Islamophobia tactic could backfire. If he fails to get an overall majority

Harper could be a dead duck by the middle of next week.

He has driven together his main rivals. Relations between them have often been cool but Mulcair says removing Harper is his top priority and he would be ready to support Trudeau as Prime Minister.

For anyone who finds the use of the race card distasteful this would count as a victory for the good guys

Immigration and race never seem to be far from the Crosby mind when it comes to campaigning. His entry into British politics came in 2005 when under Michael Howard’s leadership the Tories ran posters asking “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” followed up with : “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration.” . The Guardian’s Nick Watt explained that Crosby was importing an approach that had worked in his native land.

Now, according to the Mail, he is warning David Cameron that the migrant issue could cost the Tories the election in 2020.

But the next big electoral test comes next May and it will be interesting to see what role Crosby plays in the London. He helped get Boris Johnson elected Mayor in 2008 by virtually gagging the flamboyant, gaffe-prone candidate.

Zac Goldsmith will be a harder sell. For all his wealth and good looks he is short on charisma. In the recent PB podcast the Telegraph’s Asa Bennett judged his Tory conference “underwhelming”.

London is a famously diverse city and Labour’s candidate Sadiq Khan is, of course, a Muslim. If Goldsmith’s campaign falters look out for the Tories to throw that dead cat on to the table.

Don Brind