Hilary Clinton: experienced, competent, smart; but sub-par as a leader.
Malcolm Turnbull: intelligent, successful, capable; again, failing as a leader.
What did JFK, Ronald Reagan and husband Bill have (along with Hawke and Howard) that these two lack?
First PR dilemma: Lousy politicians
We can’t fix something until we know what’s wrong. Well, as Oren Cass of the Manhattan Institute observed this week to Amanda Vanstone on ABC radio’s Counterpoint, a person can be smart, clever and terrific on policy, but a lousy politician.
People have different skills and being a politician takes many; Clinton is not a good communicator, an effective campaigner or an effective strategist.
For Clinton read Turnbull.
When we look at campaigns we study:
- The Leadership Team: vision, values, strategy, unit
- The Spokesperson: orator, personality, strength and determination
- The messages/policies: clarity, depth, simplicity to communicate, effectiveness
When Bill Clinton ran in the 90’s, his campaign director, James Carville, famously posted the winning formula on the campaign war room wall:
- Change vs. more of the same.
- The economy, stupid.
- Don’t forget health care.
Hilary Clinton, without that clarity, lost against Obama 8 years ago, at the time a political lightweight but a compelling orator; more recently almost lost against Bernie Sanders who substituted policy with relentless passion; and is now struggling against a maniacal Trump.
As Oren Cass says, it’s rare to have experienced deep thinkers who are also effective leaders.
But there’s another issue for PR people.
Second PR dilemma: unpredictable public
We, the people, are changing. Our cynicism and distrust is changing us in ways very few have grappled with.
I haven’t read about anyone who anticipated the Arab Spring, then the raft of first term governments tipped out of power, and more recently the Brexit shock. In developed democracies:
- There’s part of the community with access to almost limitless information, the people of which are much more politically aware than before, and the more they see the less they like.
- Then there’s the less-informed, who are “not interested” or “have better things to do than follows those politicians” and “don’t have time for all that social media crap.” Within this group, there’s deep discontent that the world is now changing at high speed without them.
- And there’s an ever-widening schism between these two; the elite vs. the disenfranchised. And through that chasm has marched the likes of Trump, Hanson and extremists in Europe.
- Trump and Hanson with their hyperbole generate further divisions and additional heat, exacerbating fear and uncertainties.
- The increasingly distrusted media feeds on this as it hypes content to hold a shrinking audience in a tougher instant news cycle (more a news-cyclone than a news cycle).
- All this accelerating unpredictably, at once exciting and scary. No sci-fi writer I’ve read ever anticipated the crazy cocktail of globalisation, immediacy, social media and limitless information.
- And now we can cycle back to the politicians and their minders who don’t understand how to manage this…
…and where and how will this manifest next. We PR people, the professionals on these schisms, are charged with knowing what effect this is having, and we’re failing.