Posts Tagged ‘strategy’

Unsolicited free advice for leadership hopefuls and New Democrats

Friday, July 8th, 2016

A photo of a big yellow arrow followed by a team of little white arrows.

For most Canadians, the season that just started is Summer. But for that band of hardy travellers on the parliamentary road to a better tomorrow — that is, us New Democrats — the season is Leadership.

Nationally and in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, our party is seeking new leadership. Choosing a new leader is a pretty big deal in politics. We’re trying to find an effective, inspiring champion for our values and policies… who has the wisdom and strategic smarts to guide a party in opposition and, hopefully, a province or a nation in government… and whose background and leadership style sends a powerful message to Canadians about who and what we stand for.

The NOW team has more than a little experience with this. At a quick rough count, we’ve collectively provided strategic guidance to 21 political party leaders including eight provincial premiers. And while we’ve lost count of the precise number, we’ve worked on more than 50 municipal, provincial and federal elections.

So here’s a little unsolicited, free advice (isn’t that the best kind?) from the NOW team to leadership hopefuls — and to the New Democrats who will choose one of them to lead us into the next election and beyond.

  1. We need a leader who talks more about others than her/himself. Telling voters what drives you to serve can be powerful. But a good leader also listens to others, reflects on what they say and weaves others’ stories into their own.
  2. Look for a leader who doesn’t talk about “rebuilding the party.” It isn’t about the party. It’s about the people who are counting on us to get elected so we can change their lives for the better. So let’s not navel-gaze too much in public.
  3. Let’s elect a leader who understands that the legislature isn’t the centre of the universe. The neighbourhood, my home and my family are the centre of my universe. Too often political types get tied up in knots about the process instead of the outcome. What we do in the legislatures of the nation matters only because of the impact on people’s lives. The best leaders are the ones who can make that connection without getting lost in the weeds of Parliamentary procedure and antics.
  4. Leadership is not only an intellectual exercise. Yes, our new leader should be smart and savvy. But it’s even more important to make an emotional connection – to speak from both the head and the heart about the real issues facing Canadians. Show voters that you care about me and my neighbours.
  5. Don’t tell people to vote for “change.” Instead, give voters a reason to want change, and show how that change will be better, not worse. A lot of Canadians (more than 80 per cent) think that no matter who is in government, our lives will continue just the same as they always were. Don’t just tell them they’re wrong; show them there is another way.

A lot of people say they want the party to be bold. They want to be inspired. I confess I don’t really know what that means. Frankly, it’s a lot easier to agree we want “bold” or “inspirational” than to agree on the ideas behind those words. A bold idea could still be a bad idea. And what inspires one, might not inspire another.

For the voters we need to reach, “inspiration” may well be a lot more about a leader who truly connects with them. Who understands that life for Canadians is getting harder and harder. With too few good jobs, too many burdens and not enough support for the average family.

Good leaders understand my story and thousands like it. They talk more about me than about themselves. They can talk to me about why some things are working and others aren’t, and they can offer clear, credible steps to make it better. They are human, emotional and smart, and they want to build a better world for all of us.

As you flip through the catalogue of potential leadership hopefuls, or if you’re preparing a campaign of your own, keep that emotional connection in mind.

And remember why we want to win. It’s not about victory itself, or grabbing the brass ring. It’s about winning so that we have the power to make life better for the people we want to represent. And the better a leader does at conveying that convincingly, the better our party’s chances for success where it really counts.

Your summer to-do list

Monday, July 4th, 2016

Photo of a pier and a sunny beach

AKA What I did on my summer (when everyone else was on) vacation

If you’re in the office there will be days over the summer where the number of email bounce-back notifications will dwarf the number of times your phone rings. At some point you might find yourself getting a bit lonely. At NOW we call this breathing room.

Here are some things you can do to take advantage of the (relative) calm:

  • Make a plan of attacktion – Review your strategic communications plan. And if you don’t have one – write one! Having a plan will help you to hit the ground running with focus when things ramp up in September and shiny objects start threatening to pull everyone off in directions that don’t align with your long-term strategic goals.
  • Refresh your message – And if you don’t have one write one! Write one now! And then share it. It’s not really a message if it stays on your hard drive.
  • Leadership training – Your leaders and spokespeople might have bit more time on their hands as well this summer. This is a good time to start building on their communications skills, or do a few refresher sessions while they’re more relaxed and not consumed with emergencies and meetings.
  • Refresh your online profile – Do an inventory of your website and social media profiles. Do they need a refresh? Are they up-to-date? Could they use some new photos? You can also use this time to generate content for events and special days you know are coming up to have in the can.
  • Plan for campaigns – Review your campaign plans. Do you foresee needing to buy media in the next six months? Then the time is now. Making a paid media plan in advance gets you better bang for your buck with cheaper rates and a better selection.
  • Take stock (photography) – Too often the only photos we have of union leadership involve a megaphone and picket signs. Summer offers a multitude of opportunities to build and refresh your photography library. BBQs, parades, community events are great places to get photos of your leadership and members out in the community. (See NOW’s Tips for Building Your Stock Photography Library).

It’s pretty. But is it strategic?

Monday, August 24th, 2015

The problem with pretty is it can mask a serious problem.

That brochure’s gorgeous. That video’s beautiful. That website is so tasty you want to gobble it up.

And every one of them could well be a waste of money.

We’ve seen a spate of videos like this over the past month or two: well-executed, beautifully shot or animated, meticulously edited… and strategically, not worth the three minutes we spent watching them.

We’d never knock good design; give us something eye-catching and compelling any day. But the problem with pretty is that it can mask a serious problem. If a piece isn’t strategic — if it doesn’t deliver its message in a convincing way — then pretty doesn’t matter, and neither does clever or funny (as painful as that is to admit).

Our first goal isn’t entertainment: it’s persuasion. It may sound harsh, but if a piece doesn’t move your audience toward supporting you, then it has failed.

That doesn’t mean you can’t use beauty or wit to earn your audience’s attention. But the way you do it can’t get in the way of your message.

Here are three questions to help you see past the dazzle and decide whether a piece really is strategic:

  • What’s the one thing you remember after seeing or hearing it? If that one thing reinforces your message, then great! If it doesn’t — if it’s a clever joke or glorious image that doesn’t deliver your message — then this piece hasn’t done its job.
  • Will someone who skims the piece get your message? A lot of people skim print ads and brochures. And most viewers won’t watch your video all the way through. If your message is one tiny little nugget at the bottom of a sea of off-message cruft, then this piece hasn’t done its job.
  • Does anything in this piece effectively contradict your message? I’m not talking about parody; if it’s clear that you’re making fun of your opponent’s point of view, that’s one thing. But if the piece appears to be dismissive of a serious issue, or makes jokes that undermine your point, this piece not only hasn’t done its job — it’s working against you.

Just because a piece is lovely, even moving, doesn’t mean it’s strategically effective. That’s where your strategic judgement has to come into play, setting aside aesthetics and asking the hard questions that can justify an effective use to time and money — or avoid a wasteful one.

It’s not all about you

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Man adjusting his tie in a mirrorWe’ve all been there: in that slightly hazy moment of listening to others blather on, while we wonder if they’ll ever stop talking about themselves.

People like this are annoying. So are the people who communicate like this.

No matter who your audience is – members, voters or the general public – they’re more likely to listen if you avoid talking about yourself all the time. And that means talking less about policy and process, and more about people and values. (more…)

Are you knitting penguin sweaters?

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Penguins at the Woodland Park ZooIt’s easy to fall into the habit of doing things that seem useful and productive, but turn out to be anything but. We do them with the best of intentions… but the one thing we don’t do is our due diligence.

Like knitting sweaters for penguins, which is back in the news again:

You’ve probably heard that penguins get covered in muck from oil spills, which makes them chilly. Thus, we should all take a break from infinity scarves and snail jumpers to knit sweaters for penguins. Not true! Put down those knitting needles!

As we mentioned when this story went around in 2011, there really have been calls for penguin sweaters from wildlife conservation groups. But response tends to be disproportionate, and organizations are flooded with seabird apparel, a fraction of which — if any — gets used. Plus, penguin advocates dispute whether the knitwear is a good idea to begin with.

— From’s “Please don’t knit a sweater for a penguin”

For whatever reason, communications is one of those professions chock-full of penguin sweaters: things we do because we’ve heard you’re supposed to, or because we’ve done them this way for years and nobody’s ever said “stop”.


14 ways union communicators can succeed in 2014

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Next year promises to be an eventful one for progressive communicators, and we’d really like to see you knock it out of the park. So I asked around NOW’s offices: what are the ways (large and small) unions (small and large) could dramatically improve their communications impact?

Here are just some of the suggestions I got back. (Big thanks to Kristen, Joanne and Marie!) And whether you’re a professional leading a major public campaign, a volunteer helping your local get the word out, or somewhere in between, we suspect you’ll find something useful in this bulging holiday stocking of advice. (more…)

Warm, loving communicator seeks open-minded audience member. Objective: political support.

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Red marker sketching a heartWhether you’re a politician, a union leader or just somebody who spends a lot of time debating issues, the tools of persuasion come in handy. There are a million tricks of the trade, best practices and theories on various approaches.

But it all comes down to the relationship you build with the people you’re trying to connect to. I like to think that being a strong and persuadable communicator is much like being a good friend or lover: you need to listen, build on the values you share, and accept that you’ll always have your differences, too.

What does that look like when it comes to persuasive messaging?

NOW à Paris

Friday, November 26th, 2010

NOW staffers at the IAPC conference in ParisNOW-ers Robb Gibbs, Marie Della Mattia and Ron Johnson attended the International Association of Political Consultants 43rd Annual World Conference in Paris last week. Democracy Medal winner Morgan Tsvangirai, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe delivered the keynote address highlighting the integral role the international community has held in fostering legitimate elections in developing democracies. “Democracy cannot flourish in isolation,” he said.

Speakers also included former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn and former Director of Government Information Service of France Theirry Saussez in a panel discussion on the challenges of communications for governments moderated by our own Marie Della Mattia.

Advisors to the leaders in Britain’s first ever televised leaders’ debates also shared their insights in prepare leaders to this intense scrutiny. At the end of the day, over 53% of the general population said these debates had an impact on who they voted for.

The 44th Annual IAPC World Conference will be held in Istanbul, November 17-20, 2011 so save the dates.

A bigger voice for the social services sector

Friday, June 11th, 2010

NOW President and CEO Marie Della Mattia spoke with delegates at the Federation of Community Social Services of BC 28th Annual General Meeting: Responding to the Call. She reported on strategic communications work done with the Roundtable of Provincial Social Services Organizations. Who is our audience? What is our message? And what makes our message believable? Giving our sector a bigger voice: a strategic communications framework.