|Aust PM Tony Abbott & QLD Premier Campbell Newman|
Governments can be really poor at PR, mainly because many politicians and their advisors live in a cocoon where their ‘insider’ political thinking rarely interconnects with the perspectives and priorities of the general public.
While oppositions spend more time mixing with and listening to ordinary people (out of necessity, not choice), as soon as they make the switch to the government benches, there is too much happening inside to make the effort to go outside.
This creates a challenge for governments, because their ‘publics’ live on the outside!
Two of our newest governments are working hard to correct the shortfalls of the administrations they succeeded, and both (while recognising that some will disagree with my views) are doing a good job.
It’s early days yet for the Abbott Government, but so far it has honoured its election commitments and is producing encouraging results.
In Queensland, the Newman Government – with no real opposition – has done an excellent job on many fronts and has been willing to make the tough decisions asked of it by Queenslanders who wanted a definitive directional change.
Yet despite their varying degrees of success, both governments have done a poor job in the area of public relations. Neither has sold its successes well or made convincing public cases for its controversial decisions.
In short, both governments know where they are going and what they are doing, but have failed to bring the people with them on the journey.
This is a classic case of failing to manage change, a common mistake made by companies, organisations and governments with new leadership.
In Queensland, the majority of people understood that the public service needed to be restructured, yet the Government chose the most abrasive route to achieve their outcome. Of course they would argue that people will have forgotten this by the next election.
That’s a political response, not a human one. A Government that understands the power of bringing people with them would have taken a more consultative approach and acted with more compassion, while still achieving the result.
The new laws against the renamed ‘criminal motorcycle gangs’ again have a high level of public support and should be a PR coup. Yet the lack of communication with the public and the failure to bring us on the journey has many asking, “If people can be arrested for having a beer, what next?”
The Government could answer this reasonably and maturely if they chose, but they are choosing to stick to their script. While there is no doubt they will easily win the next election, I wonder if they may lose a couple of seats they could have kept, had they placed a greater focus on effective communication.
Federally, the Government has a clear mandate to “stop the boats”. No one can deny that. It’s also entirely reasonable that they stop the endless media obsession of the former Rudd and Gillard Governments. Mr Abbott’s explanation that “we’ll only speak when we have something worth saying” makes sense – in fact it’s a refreshing change.
But refusing to bring the people of Australia with them on the journey is foolish. The people – their ‘public’ – should never be taken for granted. Australians want to know what their government is doing and why.
Ironically, I believe greater communication and transparency would result in more – not less - support for the Government’s policies and strategies.
Effective PR is to control the message. This means to believe in what you are doing, get on the front foot, trumpet your successes and bring the public with you. Let’s hope all governments get that message in 2014.